For the second time rescue efforts to find four missing miners after an explosion Monday that killed 25 people in a mine near Charleston, W.Va. have seen a setback. Thursday morning a dangerous mixture of gas made rescuers turn back, dwindling the hopes of finding any survivors.
Officials said a crew of 32 rescuers is expected to go back into the mine sometime after 6 p.m. once a second bore hole is made to double the amount of ventilation. Fans are then inserted into the holes to pump out the gas which has held up the rescue mission for nearly three days.
At this point, Gov. Joe Manchin has said the only hope is that the four people who are unaccounted for found their way into the rescue chamber where there is a supply of fresh air, water and food.
The blast happened Monday around 3 p.m. during a shift change, but exactly how the accident happened is still unknown. Manchin said the blast was so powerful that it bent and twisted in ground rails that are used to carry men and equipment.
According to Jimmy Gianato, Director of West Virginia’s Department of Homeland Security, rescue will only begin if workers have clean air without using their air supply. Otherwise the conditions make it too dangerous and put more lives at risk.
Massey Energy, the company that owned the mine, has repeatedly been cited for problems with the system that vents methane.
A team of investigators from Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is looking into exactly how the explosion occurred. Officials believe it may have been caused by a build up of methane.
The same day of the blast, according to MSHA records, Upper Big Branch mine was cited with two violations, one for insufficient maps showing escape routes and another for improper splice of electrical cable, although Kevin Stricklin, a MSHA administrator believes neither violation caused the explosion.
Manchin said methane gas levels were higher than in the 2006 Sago mine disaster which killed 12 with one survivor, Randal McCloy.
Manchin, who has been consoling families since Monday, has been updating the public by holding press conferences every two hours.