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Effort to rescue 6 Utah coal miners meets early frustration

PAUL FOYAssociated Press WriterGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

HUNTINGTON, Utah (AP) After desperate rescuers dug all night, even with their hands, a frustrated mine executive said Tuesday it would take three days to reach six men trapped 1,500 feet below ground.At that point we will know whether theyre alive or dead, said Robert E. Murray, chairman of Murray Energy Corp.Im disappointed with our progress in getting access to these trapped miners, he said.Even if rescuers get access to the men, who have been trapped for more than 30 hours, the 2-inch holes would only be large enough to get food and air to them, Murray said.Weve only moved 310 feet closer to these miners from where we started, he said. We only achieved 50 feet (Monday night) because of geotechnical problems and technical problems that forced us out of the mine.The trapped miners were believed to be in a chamber 3.4 miles inside the Crandall Canyon mine. Rescuers were able to reach a point about 1,700 feet from that point before being blocked by debris.The Lord has already decided whether theyre alive or dead, Murray said. But its up to Bob Murray and my management to get access to them as quickly as we can.With no way to know whether the six were alive, crews worked through the night in shifts. Workers in hard hats came and went along a road leading to the Crandall Canyon mine in a forested canyon among mountains. Dozens of trucks and cars headed in near dawn.Murray said there were 30 pieces of massive mining equipment in place and 134 people dedicated to the rescue.Right now I cant say if its looking any better, weary miner Leland Lobato said. Theyre doing what they can to keep everybody as fresh as possible so nobody gets tired.Several other miners emerged with blackened cheeks after an all-night shift.Rescue attempts were halted overnight after a bump in which coal was dislodged from the mines ribs, said Al Davis, an official with the Federal Mine Safety Health Administration.Murray insisted that an earthquake caused the cave-in and angrily denied that a mining method called retreat mining had a role.In that method, pillars of coal are used to hold up an area of the mines 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.University of Utah seismograph stations recorded seismic waves of 3.9 magnitude Monday, though scientists said it was unclear if the collapse caused the earthquake or the quake came first.The Crandall Canyon 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.Huntington City Council member Julie Jones, whose son Elam is a miner, said some miners were on their knees digging with their hands.They are not mining coal. They are digging those guys out. We just want them home, Jones said, her eyes filling with tears Tuesday.She spoke to her son for five minutes Monday night and gave him a hug.Mom, its scary but I need to be where I need to be, he told Jones.Emery County Sheriff Lamar Guymon said 90 percent of the community is tied to coal mining or energy production.This affects everybody, not just six families, he said.Little was known about the six miners. Only one has been identified, but Mexicos consul in Salt Lake City, Salvador Jimenez, said three of the men are Mexican citizens.Jimenez said, however, that he did not know any details about the men, including whether they are U.S. residents, their ages or hometowns.After the collapse, relatives of the miners spent the rest of the day waiting at a senior center for news. Murray met them at another location Tuesday.Many family members dont speak English, so Huntington Mayor Hilary Gordon said she hugged them, put her hands over her heart and then clasped them together to let them know she was praying for them.Government mine inspectors have issued 325 citations against the mine since January 2004, according to a quick analysis of federal Mine Safety and Health Administration online records. Of those, 116 were what the government considered significant and substantial, meaning they are likely to cause injury.The 325 safety violations is not unusual, said J. Davitt McAteer, former head of the MSHA and now vice president of Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia.Its not perfect but its certainly not bad, McAteer said.This year, inspectors have issued 32 citations against the mine, 14 of them considered significant.Asked about safety, Murray told reporters Monday: I believe we run a very safe coal mine. Weve had an excellent record.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.Emery County, the states No. 2 coal-producer, also was the site of a fire that killed 27 people in the Wilburg mine in December 1984.Associated Press writers Garance Burke in Huntington, Brock Vergakis in Salt Lake City and Seth Borenstein in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.


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