Celeste Monforton, a mine safety advocate and former policy advisor for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), noted that 33 Chilean miners rescued in 2010 after 69 days trapped underground had retreated to such a room after the roof collapsed in the San José Mine, a copper and gold mine near Copaipo, Chile.
"These things are possible," said Monforton, who now teaches at the George Washington University School of Public Health.
Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said 787 people were inside the mine at the time of Tuesday's explosion and fire that killed at least 245 workers in one of Turkey's worst mine disasters.
Yildiz said 450 had been rescued and that scores were injured. The fate of as many as 100 miners remained unclear.
Monforton said that with so many workers in the mine at the same time, many likely were in different areas, which could increase their chances of survival.
Yildiz was overseeing operations by rescuers but said, "Regarding the rescue operation, I can say that our hopes are diminishing."
Officials confirmed that the deaths were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning.
U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said Wednesday that the administration had "reached out to officials in Turkey, and we stand ready to provide assistance in any way we can."
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared three days of national mourning, ordering flags lowered to half-staff.
The explosion tore through the mine as workers were preparing for a shift change, officials said, which likely raised the casualty toll because more miners were inside than usual.
Rescue workers emerged at a slow pace from the mine with stretchers carrying bodies, which were covered in blankets. Other rescue workers, mostly miners lucky enough to have been on a different shift or working in other mines, trickled out on their own.
One man walked down the stairs from the mine's entrance weeping. As bodies were brought out on stretchers, rescue workers pulled blankets from the faces of the dead to give jostling crowds of anxious family members a chance to identify victims. One elderly man wearing a prayer cap wailed after he recognized one of the dead, and police restrained him from climbing into an ambulance with the body.
An injured rescue worker who emerged alive was whisked away on a stretcher to the cheers of onlookers. Yildiz said rescue operations were hindered because the mine had not completely been cleared of gas.
Source: usatoday.com Greg Toppo, USATODAY