Rescue Efforts Proceed Slowly in Utah Mine

Rescuers are looking for new ways to reach six trapped coal miners after earth tremors forced the rescue teams to abandon the mine. According to the latest estimate, it may take another week to free the six men.

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After some major setbacks, rescuers in Utah say they're making progress, drilling a small hole towards six trapped miners. The two-inch opening will allow the rescue team to listen for signs of life, where the men are trapped fifteen hundred feet below the surface.

Meanwhile, the miners' loved ones are expressing their frustration.

NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY: At the entrance to the Crandall Canyon Mine, trucks are bringing in flatbed trailers loaded with heavy timbers. They'll be used to shore out barriers underground after crews clear out the debris. The Mine Safety and Health Administration or MSHA also brought in equipment to see if they could hear any sounds the miners might be making. Miners are trained to make loud noises when trapped so they're easier to locate.

Richard Stickler is assistant secretary of labor for Mine Safety and Health. He says the seismic activity has subsided, but there's still some movement. And that's making it difficult to hear.

Mr. RICHARD STICKLER (Assistant Secretary of Labor, Mine Safety and Health Administration): These are like booms, bounces, rock breaking. Those kind of noises would interfere in any kind of expectation we would have to be able to communicate with the miners.

BRADY: Above ground, helicopters have set down two drills - one will create a hole about eight and a half inches wide, then food and water could be sent to the miners.

Mine owner Bob Murray says the drill had to be placed on a steep slope.

Mr. BOB MURRAY (Owner, Crandall Canyon Mine): And as a result, we have had difficulty in getting it positioned within the fraction of an inch of where it has to be. But it is now drilling. And it will be down there in two days boring any delays in the drilling. Two days.

BRADY: Murray says once the ground stops moving so much, crews will head back in to the mine to clear away rubble. He says both efforts - the drills above ground and the digging under - are important.

Mr. MURRAY: The greatest chance to keep them alive - if they are alive - is the vertical drilling from the surface. The only way to really get them out, dead or alive, is through the mine.

BRADY: Murray was an hour late for the news conference this morning because he said the families of the six miners needed more time with him. Mexican consulate says three of the trapped men are Mexican citizens - one is Manuel Arturo Sanchez. He's worked more than a decade in the mine and lives in nearby Price with his wife and four children.

Sanchez's sister, Maria Buenrostro, says it's been difficult for those who don't speak English to get information. And even for her, the constant message to be hopeful is difficult to hear.

Ms. MARIA BUENROSTRO: We want the truth. That's all we are asking right now, you know? If there's nothing that they can do about it, you know, just tell us so that we know what to expect when they bring them out.

BRADY: Around this town, there are signs hung on fences asking people to pray for the miners. Huntington Mayor Hillary Gordon has spent hours with the families trying to encourage them. But as the hours wear on, that's becoming more difficult.

Ms. HILARY GORDON (Mayor, Huntington, Utah): We were hoping that by the day, the men were out. And I know that the mine rescuers were hoping. Everyone was hoping. But these things are not speedy. They take time. They have to be done safely.

BRADY: The company that owns the mine plans to take two family members in so they can see rescue efforts firsthand, but that'll have to wait until the ground stabilizes.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Huntington, Utah.

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