|At the end of the shift, the miners ascend from underground in groups. Other workers are gathered outside to start their shift. Those coming off duty are wished a speedy recovery by those going in who in return are wished good luck for the day's work. The dangers of their job have become commonplace; they no longer consider such factors important and they all have a smile on their faces.|
of meters down in the twisting, damp, black galleries of Zonguldak, water
flows, breezes blow, and people pass their underground lives sharing
jokes, meals and danger. For a few years the tunnels have been threatened
with closure or privatization, but the miners continue working and living,
not wishing to be torn from their black subterranean world. In the past,
not all submitted their labor voluntarily. Children and convicts numbered
among those working in the galleries, as did mules who spent their entire
lives underground in the mines, never seeing the light of day.
As I receive my first mask lesson ankle deep in water, I wonder whether the 263 victims of the 1992 tragedy in Kozlu mine had time to put their safety training to work. Vivid images of anxious families waiting at the shaft, smoke, frantic activity, rescue teams, bodies being brought up from underground and the sound of screaming fill my mind as though the incident were only yesterday.
I first came to Zonguldak after the 1992 fire damp tragedy for a long-term job. Now I am here again, outfitted in mining gear with lamp and oxygen mask in the company of mining engineer Kemal Bulut in the galley leading to the lift. A metal door seals the gigantic elevator and we descend into the bowels of the earth on steel cables. In the gallery a damp and gloomy darkness greets us. In places, water drips from the ceiling and the ventilation system creates a strong draft. The air current is regulated by pressurized doors in the tunnels. The ventilation is so effective that you can catch the smell of cucumbers being eaten by miners over 100m away. However, the air is not always this pure - as the galleries gradually narrow towards production points, the air gets heavier and we start to sweat.
The deepest mine in Zonguldak is Kozlu where miners work at a depth of 560m. Here, the ventilation not only enables people to breathe but serves an invaluable safety role as well. When coal is mined, each blow releases a colorless, odorless, non-poisonous gas - known as fire damp - which, when mixed with air in appropriate amounts, can ignite with slightest friction. The danger is so pernicious that work stops if fire damp is detected at one percent, and at 1.5 percent the area is evacuated. The giant ventilators that prevent you from hearing the sound of your own voice help to sweep away the danger of fire damp. To reach the site of the '92 tragedy, we enter a gallery where water covers our ankles. Kemal explains that flooding rather than fire damp poses the greatest problem in mining, and drainage systems have to be constructed. After walking a few kilometers, damage caused by the explosion becomes evident, exacerbated by subsequent flooding.
Miners' clothes become soaked from the water sprayed along the face of the coal to damp down dust or from the compressed air diggers which constantly jet water to cool the blades. In the changing rooms of Gelik mines, these wet clothes are dried in baskets drawn up to the ceiling on a pulley.
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