PAUL FOY Associated Press Writer HUNTINGTON, Utah
Dangerous conditions inside a coal mine forced rescuers to halt efforts to reach six miners who haven’t been heard from since a massive collapse two days ago. The setback in underground operations was so severe that crews won’t be able to reach the miners for at least a week, mining company executive Robert E. Murray said Tuesday. All work done since Monday to clear rubble and move forward undergound was “wiped out by this seismic and tectonic activity underground,” said Murray, chairman of Murray Energy Corp., owner of the Crandall Canyon mine, who claims an earthquake caused the collapse. Murray said that following an aftershock “our management made an immediate decision to remove rescuers from the mine because we didn’t want to jeopardize the lives of rescuers.” Resumption of that work would begin no earlier than this afternoon, Murray said. A spokesman for University of Utah seismologists said today that all evidence indicates it was the collapse, not an earthquake, that registered on a seismograph early Monday, and that scientists suspect further shaking at the site is from settling. Meanwhile, drilling rigs were boring two holes vertically into the mine in attempt to get air and food to the miners and to communicate with them, said Richard Stickler, head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, at a news conference. The holes are small one is 2 1/2 inches in diameter and the other less than 9 inches but Murray said they should bring information about the status of the miners in 48 to 72 hours. If alive, he said, the miners could survive on available air “for perhaps weeks.” The government’s chief mine inspector was more cautious. “We’re hoping there’s air down there. We have no way of knowing that,” said MSHA’s Al Davis. The six miners were believed to be 1,500 feet underground when the mine, in a remote winding canyon 140 miles south of Salt Lake City, was struck by a major collapse early Monday. Amid the increasingly frustrated rescue effort, residents of the mining region sought to remain confident. About 35 people including several miners prayed for the six men Tuesday evening at a Spanish-language Mass in a humble church outside Huntington. “We come together to pray for our brothers, who are trapped. We ask God to send his sprit upon them,” said the Rev. Donald Hope, who oversees the Mission San Rafael Catholic Church. Meanwhile, a dispute flared over what factors may have been involved in the collapse. Murray lashed out at news media for suggesting his men were conducting “retreat mining,” in which miners pull down the last standing pillars of coal and let the roof fall in.