Mine rescue effort stalls

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HUNTINGTON, Utah (AP) — Seismic activity has “totally shut down” efforts to reach six miners trapped below ground and has wiped out all the work achieved in the past day, a mine executive said yesterday.

“We are back to square one underground,” said Robert E. Murray, chairman of Murray Energy Corp., owner of the Crandall Canyon mine.

Still, “we should know within 48 to 72 hours the status of those trapped miners,” Mr. Murray said. Rescue crews are drilling two holes into the mountain in an effort to communicate with the miners — provided they are still alive.

Meanwhile, unstable conditions below ground have thwarted rescuers’ efforts to break through to the miners, who have been trapped 1,500 feet below the surface for nearly two days, he said.

The seismic activity and other factors “have totally shut down our rescue efforts underground,” Mr. Murray said.

“There is absolutely no way that through our underground rescue effort we can reach the vicinity of the trapped miners for at least one week,” he said.

Mr. Murray has insisted the cave-in was caused by an earthquake, but government seismologists have said the pattern of ground-shaking picked up by their instruments around the time of the accident Monday appeared to have been caused not by an earthquake, but by the cave-in itself.

Mr. Murray lashed out at the press for suggesting his men were conducting “retreat mining,” a method in which miners pull down the last standing pillars of coal and let the roof collapse.

“This was caused by an earthquake, not something that Murray Energy … did or our employees did or our management did,” he said.

Little was known about the six miners; only one has been identified. The Mexican Consulate in Salt Lake City said three of the men are Mexican citizens.

In Huntington, 10 miles from the mine, residents were eager for news, and the strain was evident in their somber looks. The families of the trapped miners were sequestered at a junior high school in Huntington, about six miles from the mine, and police stood guard on the grounds.

LaRena Collards, 71, was making cakes for families of the trapped miners, just as she did in 1984 when a fire killed 27 persons at another mine.

“You just ask the Lord to bless the families and give them the strength to get through this,” Miss Collards said.

The 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.

Government mine inspectors have issued 325 citations against the mine since January 2004, according to a cursory 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.

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