It's a tragic and sad day in Montcoal, West Virginia this morning following yesterday's methane explosion at the Raleigh County coal mine
Families, friends and neighbors in this close knit mining community are gathered near the entrance to the mine comforting and supporting each other as identities of the bodies of the 25 known dead are confirmed.
Two miners have been hospitalized. One at Charleston Area Medical Center and one at the Raleigh County Hospital.
Early this morning search and rescue halted efforts after a buildup of the toxic methane gas made rescue efforts unsafe until bore holes can be drilled to allow the gas to escape.
Authorities said there was only a slight chance that the workers had reached a rescue chamber where there is clean air, food and water to last 96 hours.
The accident, the worst US mining mishap since 1984, hit Monday afternoon as miners were changing shifts at the mine, located some 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Charleston, West Virginia.
"I think it is a dire situation," said Kevin Stricklin, administrator of coal for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, saying that levels of toxic gases were too high for the search to continue.
"High concentrations of methane, high concentrations of C02 as well as the smoke basically gave a scenario where there could have been a second explosion," he said.
Rescuers planned to bore holes from the surface 1,000 feet (333 meters) into the mine chamber where the four missing miners are believed to be located to monitor gas levels and attempt to ventilate some of the toxic fumes, officials said.
But West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin said it would take at least 12 hours to drill the holes, so crucial time will pass until rescuers can go back into the mine.
Families who are waiting for word of their loved ones are no stranger to mining disasters and death. This is their life, men lose their lives to coal mining and health effects of coal mining daily throughout the state and country.
As one woman who's brother Benny Willingham did not survive the accident said " Benny has prepared us for this day, he worked at the mine for 30 years and knew what could happen."
This large family has gathered with the community and extended family to support the other miners families involved in this tragedy. This deadly disaster is being called the worst in mining history in over a quarter of a century.
The explosion occurred during a shift change, as some miners were exiting and others were arriving. One survivor described how the blast blew his shirt off, Manchin said. He said those leaving rushed back in as far as they could to rescue those inside.
Manchin said the force of the blast was such that it turned rail lines and heavy equipment into bent and twisted wreckage.
"That tells you how horrific this was," he said. "This has been pretty rough."
Of the 25 miners killed, 14 have yet to be identified. "So you can imagine the anxiety with the families," he said on NBC.
"The families want closure," Manchin said earlier at a news conference. "They want names ... these families are good people. Hard-working people. They understand the challenges. Right now I told them to do what they do best. Love each other and come together as a family."
Manchin, who returned home immediately from vacation as soon as he heard of the explosion. Gov. Manchin said Obama had promised "every asset available" to help in the rescue effort.
Manchin has also asked everyone to "pray for the miners, their families and our rescue teams."
Contact Kim Hartman - CelebrateMe@aol.com
- WV Deadly Coal Mine Explosion (live report) (Includes interview and film)