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Turkey mine search ends; last of 301 bodies found

SAVASTEPE, Turkey (AP) -- Turkish rescue workers have retrieved the bodies of the last two missing miners in the nation's worst mining disaster, putting the final death toll at 301, the energy minister said Saturday.

Taner Yildiz said 485 miners escaped or were rescued after Tuesday's explosion and fire that devastated a coal mine in Soma, western Turkey.

“All corners of the mine were searched by a large team and there was no other body or living person,” he said. “Until today we had focused on search and rescue efforts. Now we will be focusing on investigations, on what will happen about production.”

“We won't be leaving (Soma) because the search efforts are ending,” he added. “There will be psychological and social support.”

Government and mining officials have insisted that the disaster was not due to negligence and that the mine was inspected regularly. Akin Celik, the mine's operations manager, has said thick smoke from the underground fire killed many miners who had no gas masks. High levels of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide have been a problem for rescue workers as well.

But one miner, 24-year-old Erdal Bicak, told The Associated Press that he believes the disaster was due to the mining company's negligence.

“The company is guilty,” Bicak said. He said managers had machines that measure methane gas levels: “The new gas levels had gotten too high and they didn't tell us in time.”

Yildiz said it is too early to say why the explosion occurred.

“The true cause of the accident will be assessed ... through different dimensions,” he said. “There will be lessons to draw for the mining world.”

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