- Associated Press - Monday, June 6, 2016

CRYSTAL SPRINGS, Miss. (AP) - Officials trying to recover the bodies of two men buried when a gravel pit caved in Friday say they hope heavier pumps will help dig out the men, who were buried under 10 to 12 feet of mud along with their equipment.

That’s after earlier attempts Saturday and Sunday with a crane failed to lift out the dump truck and track hoe that James “Dee” Hemphill and Emmitt Shorter were driving when a quicksand-like slurry engulfed their vehicles while they were working at the Green Brothers Gravel Co. pit near Crystal Springs.

“I can only again stress our sympathy and prayers to those dear family members who have kept this vigil, how heartbreaking it must be,” Gov. Phil Bryant told reporters during a Monday afternoon briefing after meeting with family members at the gravel pit in rural Copiah County.

The heavier pumps arrived Monday evening from Alabama, escorted by Mississippi State Troopers. U.S Mine Safety and Health Administration spokeswoman Amy Louviere said that pumping would begin once the system is installed and checked.

William O’Dell, MSHA assistant district manager, told reporters Monday that the agency is working to recover the bodies without further injuries and will investigate the incident later. The agency is supervising about 25 people working on recovery efforts.

“As far as Green Brothers’ violation history, at this point we haven’t really focused on the history of that,” O’Dell said. “We’re solely focused on our recovery operations.”

MSHA has cited the particular mine for 26 “significant & substantial” violations since 1993, according to online records. Green Brothers, based in Crystal Springs, also operates other gravel mines.

Norman Ford, an assistant vice president of Green Brothers, read a statement Monday but took no questions.

“Please continue to ask for comfort for these families and strength for us to press on for the only mission that matters, the recovery of our guys and their loved ones,” Ford said, his voice breaking.

The landslide happened around noon Friday, and some family members initially questioned why it took so long for recovery efforts to begin. Copiah County Emergency Management Director Randle Drane said that local personnel tried to rescue the men.

“We responded, we came, we did the best effort with the equipment and manpower we had,” Drane said. “But under the situation we had there was really nothing we could do.”

Mine workers built a road to the buried men’s location and were sucking out water with other pumps Monday while they awaited more equipment, including an excavator that can reach longer distances. O’Dell said 24-hour work is planned until Hemphill and Shorter are recovered.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Lee Smithson described the wet mud that entombed the men as “unprecedented.”

“It had the consistency, essentially of quicksand. And so there hadn’t been, that we could go and find, any kind of rescue operation involving a track hoe and an articulated dump truck in that kind of consistency of slurry.”


Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy. Read his work at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-amy

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