Update at 9:30 p.m. ET. The Miners Are Rescued:
Mine rescuers have brought out the three mine workers trapped for nearly 14 hours. Officials say they're in good condition but they've been transported to a hospital for examinations and to be reunited with their families.
Ellen Smith of Mine Safety and Health News reports that the incident is similar to one at a West Virginia coal mine two years ago, in which seven miners were trapped for 24 hours before being rescued. In both cases, drainage systems failed to contain runoff from torrential downpours. Details on the causes of this latest entrapment are still sketchy. But Dick Brown of the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet says, "A diversion ditch... apparently failed allowing water that accumulated from a 6 inch overnight rainfall to come into the mine opening."
The 2009 incident occurred at the Mountaineer Alma mine in Mingo County, W. Va., which is owned by Alpha Natural Resources, the company that just absorbed Massey Energy. Massey managed the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia where 29 mine workers were killed in a massive explosion last year. Alpha insists it has a stronger approach to safety.
But MSHA cited Alpha for the Mountaineer Alma entrapment for violating mine safety laws that require maintenance and clearance of drainage systems above ground and escape routes underground. In an investigative report, MSHA found that "the diversion ditches were not maintained or kept cleared of sediments, rocks, or vegetation, such as trees and underbrush. This allowed the runoff water to overtop the diversions ditches, flooding surface areas above the mine portals."
As Smith reports, Alpha contested the citations and they're now under review by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.
As for this most recent incident in Kentucky, "An investigation will take place in due course," says MSHA's Louviere. "Up until now, the main focus has been on the rescue."
Our Original Post:
Heavy rain and flooding have trapped three coal miners underground in the Jellico #1 mine in southeastern Kentucky's Bell County.
None of the miners are thought to be injured.
A spokeswoman at the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) says the three miners managed to reach a high spot in the mine and are in communication by phone with officials on the surface. The incident began around 6:40 a.m. ET.
"Pumps are diverting water out of the mine," says MSHA's Amy Louviere. "MSHA personnel are on site, and rescue teams are en route to the mine."
Sources familiar with the situation say that flooding in the area has kept rescuers from reaching the mine. But they also report that pumping has caused a noticeable drop in the water level underground.
The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, the state agency responsible for mining, says in a statement that:
"The water collected in a dip or swag about 180 feet inside the mine's entrance, preventing the miners from exiting. The miners are in an area 600 feet from the mine's entrance on a high elevation point and communicating by phone to the joint command center.
"The flooding of the mine is believed to have been caused by the failure of a diversion ditch at the top of a box cut allowing water to flood the mine. There is no estimated time for the rescue to be completed, but officials are very optimistic that the rescue will be successful."
Jellico #1 is owned by the James River Coal Company.
Family members are being directed to a nearby church for briefings from mine and MSHA officials.
Update at 4:15 p.m. ET. Rescue In Coming Hours? Dick Brown of the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet says pumping continues and officials are "... hopeful we can bring them out in about three hours, but [there are] no guarantees."
Pumps are discharging water away from the mine at the rate of 1,000 gallons a minute, according to MSHA.
"The water is reported to have dropped approximately one foot," says Louviere. "MSHA remains in constant communication with the three miners. They are in a dry location and unharmed."
The area was hit by heavy thunderstorms overnight. Accuweather.com reports that more than 4.7 inches of rain fell since midnight in Middlesboro, Ky., a town close to the mine.
Update at 1:50 p.m. ET: Louviere says Kentucky's mine rescue team is now at the scene.