Rescuers Try to Reach Coal Miners in Utah

There has not been any contact with the six trapped coal miners in southern Utah. The effort to free them is in its second day. There's no shortage of hope or determination among the hundreds of rescuers who have converged near the town of Huntington.

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Hundreds of rescuers converged on an area where a mine collapsed in Utah in hopes of freeing six trapped coal miners. But so far there's been no contact with the miners and no indication if the men are still alive. The mine is located near the town of Huntington, about 140 miles south of Salt Lake City.

NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN: Throughout the night, rescuers used heavy equipment and huge drills to try and reach the six men trapped inside the mine. Robert E. Murray, chairman of Murray Energy Corp, which is part owner of the Crandall Canyon mine, said rescue crews were drilling into the mine vertically from the mountaintop and horizontally from the side.

Mr. ROBERT E. MURRAY (Murray Energy Corp): And the idea is to get a hole in to where they are. They can be in a chamber in there that's a thousand feet long or they could be dead.

KAHN: Murray tried to be hopeful. He said the mine is stocked with water and plenty of air leaks into the mine naturally. However, by evening falling debris was stalling rescuers' attempts to reach the miners. Murray said he was giving the families of the six men constant updates on the rescue efforts.

Mr. MURRAY: We're doing all we can. We never do enough. You never know if you've done all you should. But we're doing the best we can and we're keeping them informed - well informed.

KAHN: A steady stream of pickup trucks pulled into the senior center nearby Huntington late into the evening. That's where the miners' families and friends gathered to wait for news.

Veronica Ordiner(ph) was chain-smoking outside the center waiting for a call from her husband Cody. He was on one of the first rescue teams sent after the mine collapsed early yesterday morning. The call came just as the sun dropped behind the mountain outside Huntington. Ordiner squealed as she recognized her husband's ring tone. She had only enough time to say I love you before the connection was lost.

Ms. VERONICA ORDINER (Wife of Rescue Worker): And I just barely got to talk to him, he's on mine rescue. And I'm on my way home to hug my baby. He's a hero and I love him.

KAHN: Ordiner's mother-in-law, Cathy Eastman(ph), broke into tears at the news that her son was okay.

Ms. CATHY EASTMAN: Oh, man. Relief.

KAHN: That must have been a horrible week.

Ms. EASTMAN: Yeah.

KAHN: You know what these families are going through then.

Ms. EASTMAN: Definitely. Yeah, I really pray for them. I will definitely pray for them.

KAHN: Eastman says the town will pull together for the miners' families, just as it did more than 20 years ago when a fire in a nearby mine claimed the lives of 27 people. Many residents said the Crandall Canyon mine is one of the safest around, but according to records from the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, inspectors have issued more than 300 citations in the past three years.

While more then 100 of those citations were considered significant, Bruce Dial, a former inspector with the agency, says the company's record was not unusual.

Mr. BRUCE DIAL (Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration): They'd had citations, but nothing that would stick out that would show that they had a real problem with roof control in that area, at that mine.

KAHN: Scientists are still debating whether an earthquake caused the mine to cave in or whether it was the mine's collapse that produced seismic waves early Monday morning.

University of Utah seismologist Walter Arabasz says while the data is still being analyzed, it looks like the cave-in caused the shock waves.

Mr. WALTER ARABASZ (University of Utah): Our best judgment is that a collapse-type event produced the magnitude 3.9 earthquake that we recorded and reported.

KAHN: Crews worked through the night bulldozing a road outside the mine to bring in a drilling rig. They want to punch holes large enough to send air down to where the men are trapped. Utah governor Jon Huntsman says every effort is being exhausted to reach the miners.

Governor JON HUNTSMAN, JR. (Republican, Utah): I just want all Utahans to know that our thoughts and prayers, of course, are with the six individuals and their families. Everything that can be done is being done - and of course that will continue. And our thoughts and prayers obviously will be ongoing until this is wrapped up.

KAHN: Company officials are offering no promises, but say that at the current pace it could be another two or three days before rescuers reach the men.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Huntington, Utah.

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Rescue Workers Erect Listening Device at Mine

Robert Murray, right, a part owner of the Crandall Canyon mine/AP. i i

hide captionRobert Murray (right) chairman of Murray Energy Corp. of Cleveland, a part owner of the Crandall Canyon mine speaks along with Doug Johnson, director of corporate services for Murray Energy Corp., to the media about the ongoing efforts to save six miners trapped in the collapsed mine.

Scott Sommerdorf/The Salt Lake Tribune/AP
Robert Murray, right, a part owner of the Crandall Canyon mine/AP.

Robert Murray (right) chairman of Murray Energy Corp. of Cleveland, a part owner of the Crandall Canyon mine speaks along with Doug Johnson, director of corporate services for Murray Energy Corp., to the media about the ongoing efforts to save six miners trapped in the collapsed mine.

Scott Sommerdorf/The Salt Lake Tribune/AP
Mine location map and diagram

hide captionSix miners were trapped after the Crandall Canyon Mine reported a "cave-in" at 3:50 a.m. MDT Monday, an hour after a 3.9 seismic reading.

Rescuers are preparing to erect a seismic listening device outside the mine where six men are trapped 1,500 feet underground, one of the mine's owners said Tuesday.

When the device is in place, crews will set off dynamite in the hope that the men can use hammers to signal that they are still alive, said Robert E. Murray. So far, there has been no contact with the men.

At a news conference in Utah, Murray said rescuers will be able to send air, food and water to the men through a hole being dug as part of the rescue effort. But the chairman of the Cleveland-based Murray Energy Corp. stopped short of saying the men are still alive.

"Progress has been too slow, too slow," he said.

Early Tuesday, rescuers cleared debris from underground tunnels in an effort to reach the miners, but Murray said it would take three days to reach the men.

The mine, located near the town of Huntington, Utah, about 140 miles south of Salt Lake City, collapsed early Monday. Relatives of the victims spent the day waiting at a senior center as the rescue effort got under way.

Crews worked through the night bulldozing a road outside the mine so they could bring in a drilling rig to punch large holes in the ground, improving ventilation where the men are believed to be trapped. They also used heavy equipment and large drills to try to reach the miners.

Murray said rescue crews are drilling into the mine vertically, from the mountaintop, and horizontally, from the side.

"The idea is to get a hole into where they are. They can be in a chamber there that is a thousand feet long, or they can be dead," he said.

Murray said the mine is stocked with water and that plenty of air leaks into the mine naturally. By nightfall, however, falling debris was stalling rescue attempts.

"We're doing all that we can," Murray said when asked about the miners' families. "You never know if you've done all you should. But we are doing the best we can and we are keeping them informed."

The mine is built into a mountain in the rugged Manti-La Sal National Forest, 140 miles south of Salt Lake City, in a sparsely populated area.

According to federal Mine Safety and Health Administration online records, inspectors have issued more than 300 citations against the mine in the past 3 years.

While more than 100 were considered significant and substantial, Bruce Dial, a former MSHA inspector said the company's record was not unusual.

"They had citations, but nothing that would show they had a real problem with roof control in that area at that mine," Dial said.

Asked about safety, Murray told reporters, "I believe we run a very safe coal mine. We've had an excellent record."

Murray was adamant that the cave-in was caused by an earthquake, which he said was confirmed by the University of Utah.

"If the percussion and shocks of the earthquake did not kill (the miners), we have a very good chance of getting them out alive," he said.

Although the instruments at the University of Utah recorded a magnitude 3.9 earthquake, seismologists do not believe an earthquake triggered the cave-in.

Walter Arabasz, director of the Seismograph Stations at the University of Utah, said the seismic wave patterns from the quake indicate the mine collapse was the source of seismic waves recorded as an earthquake. However, he said seismologists are still examining data, and it will take weeks before experts can say that with certainty.

The university Web site said there is a long history of earthquakes being generated by collapses in mines in Utah and elsewhere.

Murray angrily denied reports that "retreat mining" was to blame for the collapse, saying the miners were not engaged in that method.

Retreat mining involves using pillars of coal to hold up an area of the mine's roof. When that area is completely mined, pillars are pulled to get access to useful coal, causing an intentional collapse. Experts say it is one of the most dangerous mining methods.

"The damage in the mine was totally unrelated to any retreat mining," Murray said.

Utah ranked 12th in coal production in 2006. It had 13 underground coal mines in 2005, the most recent statistics available, according to the Utah Geological Survey.

Scientists were still debating whether an earthquake caused the mine to cave in, or if the mine's collapse produced seismic waves that were recorded as an earthquake.

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman said every effort to reach the miners was being exhausted.

"Everything that can be done is being done — and of course that will continue and our thoughts and prayers obviously will be ongoing until this is wrapped up," he said.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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