Greymouth, New Zealand (UPI) Nov 22, 2010
Three days after an explosion tore through a New Zealand coal mine, trapping 29 miners, authorities say it still isn't safe to send a rescue team underground.
Fears of potentially explosive gases have prevented rescuers from entering the mine since the blast Friday at Pike River Mine, located on the west coast of New Zealand's South Island near the town of Greymouth.
Peter Whittall, chief executive officer of mine operator Pike River Coal Ltd., told TVNZ news the danger of entering the mine for a rescue effort before having a clear picture of the situation would be "like walking up the barrel of a gun."
"There's fresh air in the tunnel, people think that must be safe, but there's a bullet at the end and we don't know if it's going to go off at this stage."
News reports Monday said that drilling on a borehole into the mineshaft was nearing its final stages, with 6.5 feet of the 531-foot tunnel to go. But authorities said they expect that it will take until Tuesday morning before cameras and listening devices can be lowered into the mine.
"We still remain optimistic, we're still keeping an open mind," Police Superintendent Gary Knowles told reporters Monday. "But we are planning for all outcomes and as part of this process we're planning for the possible loss of life as a result of what's occurred underground."
It isn't known what caused the methane explosion.
"Obviously it goes without saying at the time of the incident there was an unsafe situation," said Whittall, New Zealand's 3News reports.
"Otherwise it wouldn't have occurred. It doesn't say the mine was operated unsafely. It doesn't say the events leading up to the incident were being managed unsafely."
But a West Coast geologist warned about the threat of explosions from gas in the Pike River mine more than three years ago, The Press of South Island, NZ reports. Western Exploration Director Murry Cave told The Press that the coal in Pike River was at the "higher end of the scale" for its levels of gas, with each ton of coal containing about 353 cubic feet of gas.
The Press also reported that in a meeting with Pike River Coal shareholders four days before the mine explosion, Whittall told them that the mine was a complex geological environment that would continue to pose challenges at different times.
Pike River Coal had recently cut its production forecast for the June 2011 year by nearly half to between 320,000 tons and 360,000 tons of hard coking coal, from a previous forecast of 620,000 tons.
earlier related report
China Central Television broadcast live images of people being taken on stretchers from the Sichuan province coal mine to ambulances, about 24 hours after they were stranded in the pit, as rescuers and onlookers cheered.
China is accustomed to tragic news about its beleaguered coal miners, while the success in Sichuan stood in stark contrast to the situation in New Zealand, where 29 men remained missing after an explosion at a coal mine last week.
China's official Xinhua news agency said 22 of those rescued were miners, while the other seven were people sent down after the accident in an initial rescue bid who also became trapped.
At least 35 miners were working in the Batian mine near the city of Neijiang when the flood hit, but 13 managed to escape, reports said.
Those pulled out Monday wore eye masks to protect them from the sun after emerging from the dark shafts. Some appeared wet, but state television said those rescued were in stable condition.
AFP was not immediately able to contact provincial and local safety officials for comment.
China's notoriously dangerous coal-mining sector is regularly hit by deadly accidents blamed on the flouting of safety rules as operators try to keep costs down.
The rescue in October of 33 Chilean miners after more than two months underground sparked criticism in China of the government's inability to prevent such mishaps or successfully rescue miners stricken by accidents.
Last year 2,631 Chinese miners died in the line of work, according to official statistics, but independent labour groups say the true figure is likely to be much higher as many accidents are believed to be covered up.
Last month, a gas blast in a coal mine in central China's Henan province killed 37 mine workers.
The government has repeatedly vowed to shut dangerous mines and strengthen safety, but the accidents continue with regularity as mines rush to pump out the coal on which China relies for about 70 percent of its energy.
However, occasionally a rescue story lifts spirits.
In March this year a flood at the huge, unfinished Wangjialing mine in the northern coal-mining heartland of Shanxi trapped 153 workers underground, of whom 115 were rescued.
The government agency that oversees coal mine safety said last week all collieries would be required to have emergency shelter systems by June 2013 to protect miners in the event of accidents.
All state-linked coal mines, meanwhile, would be required to set an example by completing such facilities a year earlier.
Lin Shucheng, Sichuan's top safety official, was quoted as saying on Sunday that the Batian mine had recently been renovated to increase its annual output to 60,000 tonnes from 50,000 tonnes.
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Surviving the Pits
Flood traps 28 in China mine
Beijing (AFP) Nov 21, 2010
Rescuers were trying to free 28 people trapped in a flooded coal mine in southwest China Sunday, in the latest incident to hit the country's notoriously dangerous mining sector. The accident at the mine in Sichuan province occurred at 11 am (0300 GMT) near the city of Neijiang, Xinhua reported, citing local authorities. A total of 41 miners were working in the Batian coal mine when the f ... read more
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