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Utah's coal country will soon get the final word on one of its worst disasters. Federal mine safety officials are about to issue their report on last summer's deadly cave-in at Crandall Canyon Mine. Six miners died there, and three rescuers were killed during a second cave-in. As NPR's Jeff Brady reports, things are looking bad for the mine operator even before the report comes out.
JEFF BRADY: Here at the entrance of the Crandall Canyon Mine, the water's running high this time of year - all that snow melting off of the mountains. There's still flowers everywhere, and hanging from the stop sign there's a wooden rosary. On one side it says God bless the nine - for the six miners and the three rescuers who were killed. On the other side it says never forget.
Mr. STEVE ALLRED: You know, this has affected me more than people realize. It's changed me.
BRADY: Steve Allred is the brother of miner Kerry Allred, who was killed in the first collapse.
Mr. ALLRED: I'm an entirely different person. I don't want to socialize. I don't want to - most of the time I don't even want to leave the house.
BRADY: Allred says it's been a tough year, especially for his sister-in-law Bessie and her three kids. She's joined most of the other family in a lawsuit against companies associated with the mine, including Murray Energy. The suit claims the company operated an unsafe mine, something owner Bob Murray repeatedly denied last year when he said the collapse was an act of God.
Mr. BOB MURRAY (Owner, Murray Energy): This was an earthquake. It was two earthquakes, and the seismic activity continues.
BRADY: But it almost certainly was not an earthquake, according to University of Utah seismologist Jim Pechmann. He says what registered in instruments was the mine itself collapsing. His recent report provided some comfort for the families of the miners. It's likely they died within seconds of the cave-in.
Professor JIM PECHMANN (Seismologist, University of Utah): All I can say is that the collapse happened pretty quickly. There would not have been time for anybody to escape.
BRADY: Several members of Congress have called for criminal prosecutions of the mine operators. There's also been plenty of criticism directed at the Mine Safety and Health Administration - or MSHA - which approved the mining plan that likely caused the collapse.
Representative George Miller of California chairs the House Education and Labor Committee.
Representative GEORGE MILLER (Democrat, California; Chairman, House Education and Labor Committee): This is not an agency that has an real substantial track record in assessing fines or penalties on operators that do not follow procedures, do not provide for the safe mining environment for the miners.
BRADY: MSHA won't comment until its report is released, but there's some evidence the agency is cracking down on mining companies. Murray Energy closed another nearby mine in March, citing new safety requirements by MSHA. The coal industry is worried the Crandall Canyon disaster will prompt lawmakers to pass more safety regulations.
Bruce Watzman is with the National Mining Association.
Mr. BRUCE WATZMAN (National Mining Association): We don't think new legislation is necessary nor warranted at this time. There have been calls for it already in the Congress, and we have opposed those calls.
BRADY: Meantime, the local community is planning a permanent memorial here in Huntington near the school where, last August, families of the miners waited for information about the rescue. It'll include bronze sculptures of the men's faces - the six miners on one side, and the three rescuers facing them.
Jeff Brady, NPR News, Huntington, Utah.
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