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 Post subject: Mine blast video further dims hopes
PostPosted: Tue Nov 23, 2010 6:12 am 
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Location: Anthracite Region of PA
GREYMOUTH, New Zealand — The breakdown of a rescue robot and the release of video footage showing the huge power of a blast that ripped through a New Zealand coal mine sent hopes for the survival of 29 missing miners plummeting on Tuesday.

Relatives clinging to optimism were shown the security camera footage of Friday's explosion by officials, who said afterward it had a "sobering" effect on them. Footage of the blast shows debris flying out of the shaft like a bullet from a gun.

In an address to Parliament, Prime Minister John Key warned all New Zealanders to prepare for the worst.
..Nothing has been heard from the 29 workers who were deep in the Pike River mine at the time of the blast, believed caused by a buildup of explosive gases such as methane.

Frustrated rescuers have been prevented from entering the mine, fearing that it is a powder keg of explosive gases that could ignite at any time. Testing shows toxic and potentially explosive gases are still swirling through the underground tunnels, and a heat source believed to be a smoldering fire is also apparent.

"Toxicity is still too unstable to send rescue teams in," Police superintendent Gary Knowles, the head of the rescue operation, told reporters. "This is a very serious situation and the longer it goes on, hopes fade, and we have to be realistic."

A second robot arrived at the mine to replace one which had broken down earlier on Tuesday, a setback which provoked anger and frustration from family members, who have seen hope slowly fade as time drag on.
.'Very sobering'
The security footage shows a wall of white dust surging from the mine entrance and small stones rolling past for about 50 seconds as the force of the blast rips out of the mine.

"The length of time and the violence that will show in the video ... shows it was quite a significant event indeed," Pike River Coal Chief Executive Peter Whittall said, likening the 1.4 mile mine shaft to the barrel of a gun.
..
He said the dust from the blast was blown across a nearby valley and part of the blast wave shot up the mine's ventilation shaft, tearing off vents at the top, hundreds of feet above.

Whittall was among officials who showed the footage to family members of the missing men at one of daily briefings they have been given on the operation. Some of the relatives left the briefing, choosing not to watch, he said.

"It was very sobering. There was a lot less questions today after that," Whittall said. "It was a very quiet family meeting."

Whittall said a camera was lowered down another narrow hole which provided air to one of the designated safe areas off the main mine shaft. Some damage from the blast was evident and no signs of life were seen.

Rescue teams also used seismic devices, which could detect if any survivors were trying to signal to the surface by tapping on the rock or pipes, but nothing had been heard. A phone line deep inside the mine has rung unanswered.

'Situation remains grave'
Aged 17 to 62, the trapped men each carried an emergency breathing kit, which would have given up to an hour's fresh air, and only the food and water they would have taken in with them for their shift. Police have said they are believed to be about 1 mile down the mine's tunnel.

Officials have said it is possible the men, who were working in different areas of the mine but within several hundred feet of each other, could be huddled in pockets of clean air awaiting rescue. But that has looked less likely as every day passes without any rescuers being able to enter the mine.

Police Minister Judith Collins said everybody shared the frustration of the missing miners' families that a rescue had not yet started. "The situation is bleak, it is grave, but we can't put people underground to risk their lives," she said.

Key also expressed pessimism over the men's survival in a somber address to Parliament, saying they still "hope and pray" that the miners are alive and well, "But given we have not had contact with the men for nearly four days, the situation remains grave. Although we must stay optimistic, police are now planning for the possible loss of life.

.Two men escaped from the mine after the blast with moderate injuries but were unable to help rescuers pinpoint where the other men, who include two Britons, two Australians and a South African, were likely to be.

..
'Grief, frustration and probably anger'
In one glimmer of good news, a team boring a narrow hole to an area where the miners might be deep underground reported inching closer to their goal.

Once completed, the 500-foot-long shaft will sample gas levels and determine if rescuers can finally move in. Rescuers also want to drop a listening device down the hole to see if they can hear anything — such as tapping sounds — that might indicate that the miners are still alive.

"The families are showing grief, frustration and probably anger," said Laurie Drew, whose 21-year-old son, Zen, is among the missing. "I have my moments I can keep it together but deep down my heart's bleeding like everybody else's."

Those missing include Joseph Dunbar, who was so excited about his new job he persuaded mine bosses to let him start his first shift three days early — the day of the explosion, and the day after his 17th birthday, his mother, Philippa Timms, told local media.

New Zealand's mines are generally safe. A total of 181 people have been killed in the country's mines in 114 years. The worst disaster was in March 1896, when 65 died in a gas explosion. Friday's explosion occurred in the same coal seam.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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