W.Va. mine rescue teams eager to resume search - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

W.Va. mine rescue teams eager to resume search

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MONTCOAL, W.Va. – Rescuers running on adrenaline waited Thursday for a massive drill to vent noxious gas so they could safely resume the underground search for four coal miners missing since an explosion that killed 25 colleagues.

They had spent more than four hours working their way through the Upper Big Branch mine by rail car and on foot, but had to turn back because of an explosive mix of gases in the area they needed to search.

Crews at the surface resumed drilling in an effort to get fresh air into the mine and hoped 32 rescuers could return by about 7 p.m.

They had made it within 500 feet of an airtight chamber with four days worth of food, water and oxygen where they hoped the miners might have sought refuge after the worst U.S. mining disaster in more than two decades.

Chris Adkins, chief operating officer for mine owner Massey Energy Co., said the rescue teams were "very angry" when told to abandon the mission, but their safety was paramount. He said the teams are off their feet and resting, but too anxious to sleep.

Despite the increasingly slim chance of finding anyone alive, Adkins said he considers the effort a rescue mission.

"I still believe in God, I believe, and I'm not gonna give up," he said.

The rescue crews did not get far enough to see the bodies of the dead or if anyone had made it to the chamber. They knew where the bodies would be because rescuers made it that far after the explosion Monday before gases also forced them out of the mine.

Officials were not sure what caused the high gas levels this time but said a drop in barometric pressure as a storm rolled in might be to blame.

The rescue crews were leaving their equipment behind so they did not have to lug it back in with them when they returned.

Gov. Joe Manchin told families waiting at the mine complex that the next several hours would be a good time to take a break and get some sleep or a shower.

Kevin Stricklin of the federal Mine Health and Safety Administration said the families understood the need to pull rescuers out.

"It's a roller coaster for these people," Stricklin said. "It's very emotional. You can only imagine what it would be like."

Rescuers had already had to wait to enter the mine until crews drilled holes deep into the earth to ventilate lethal carbon monoxide and highly explosive hydrogen as well as methane gas, which has been blamed for the explosion. The air quality was deemed safe enough early in the day for four teams of eight members each to go in, but later tests showed the air was too dangerous to continue.

Adkins said rescue teams described seeing evidence of "a horrendous explosion and a lot of destruction."

He also said they may have found an alternate route that will allow them to get where they need to be faster when they can safely go back in.

Once that happens, rescuers will have to walk through an area officials have described as strewn with bodies, twisted railroad track, shattered concrete block walls and vast amounts of dust. Each team member wears 30 pounds of breathing equipment, lugs first-aid equipment and must try to see through total darkness with only a cap lamp to light the way.

Officials and townsfolk and even some family members acknowledged they didn't expect to find any of the four missing miners alive more than two days after the massive explosion.

"In my honest opinion, if anyone else survives it, I will be surprised," said James Griffith, who works at the mine. His brother, William "Bob" Griffith, went to work Monday and never came home. William Griffith's brother-in-law, Carl Acord, died in the explosion.

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