updated 12/10/2009 4:40:43 PM ET 2009-12-10T21:40:43

A methane gas explosion ripped through a coal mine in western Turkey Thursday evening, trapping at least 15 miners, officials said.

Gov. Sehabettin Harput of the western province of Bursa said between 15 and 20 miners were believed to be trapped after the blast caused a shaft to collapse at the mine in the village of Devecikonagi near the town of Mustafakemalpasa.

"We can't carry out rescue work due to high concentration of gas inside," Harput told NTV television.

Mayor Sadi Kurtulan of Mustafakemalpasa said the explosion occurred nearly 700 feet below the surface and rescue workers were attempting to provide air to the miners.

"They are currently pumping air into the mine to help the workers breathe while search and rescue teams try to get them out," Kurtulan told CNN-Turk television.

Paramilitary troops were trying to help the rescue work as medics and ambulances waited to provide first aid, he said. But Harput said rescue workers experienced in methane gas explosions were trying to reach the site from other cities.

Accidents are not uncommon in Turkish mines due to safety violations, outdated equipment and high concentrations of methane gas.

Seventeen miners were killed in a methane gas explosion at a coal mine in western Balikesir province three years ago.

In Turkey's worst mining disaster, a gas explosion killed 270 workers near the Black Sea port of Zonguldak in 1992.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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