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Associated Press
A woman cries at the grave of a mine accident victim in Soma, Turkey, Thursday, May 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Emre Tazegul)

Turkish minister: mine death toll may be about 300

Associated Press
Family members attend a funeral for a victim of the mine accident, in Soma, Turkey, Thursday, May 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Emre Tazegul)
Associated Press
In this photo released by the Turkish Presidency Press Office, Turkish President Abdullah Gul, right, listens to a miner in Soma, Turkey, Thursday, May 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Mehmet Demirci, Turkish Presidency Press Office, HO)

– Turkey’s energy minister said Friday that a maximum of 18 miners still remain underground inside a devastated coal mine and that he expect the final death toll to be around 300.

Although he did not spell it out, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz’s comments suggested that no one else was expected to come out alive from the mine in Soma, western Turkey.

Some 284 miners are known to have died in Turkey’s worst mining disaster.

“We believe that there are no more than 18 people inside the mine,” Yildiz told reporters. He said that was based on reports from families and data provided by the company.

Yildiz said a fire was still burning inside the mine, spreading noxious fumes, but that “it is declining.”

The minister said anyone found to have been negligent about safety at the mine could expect punishment. He said: “We won’t take any notice of their tears.”

Grieving relatives laid their dead to rest in mass burials Thursday, with photos of their loved ones pinned to their chests and chanting the names of lost miners. More funerals were planned for Friday.