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Second Collapse Kills Rescuers at Utah Mine

JAMES HATTORI, host:

A tragic setback for rescue operations at the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah. It appears another so-called bump or seismic jolt caused a cave-in last night. Three rescue workers were killed, six others injured. That stopped efforts to reach six coal miners who were trapped in the original collapse 11 days ago. Their fate: still unknown.

NPR's Jeff Brady is on the scene and joins us now.

Jeff, what's the latest? There are more than 130 workers taking part in the rescue effort. Have they all been accounted for?

JEFF BRADY: They have been accounted for. Last night when this bump occurred, no one was allowed to leave the mine until everyone was accounted for. And that's when they learned that nine people had been injured and of course since then we've learned that three of those people died. Overnight, three people were released from a hospital in nearby Price, Utah. We're still waiting to hear a word on the condition of the other folks.

HATTORI: Jeff, I guess the big question right now is how safe is the mine? When can rescue efforts resume? And is there a chance they may not resume?

BRADY: Well, no one knows how safe the mine is. But clearly there's problems up there. And the folks at Mine Safety and Health Administration are talking about that now, presumably, what they're going to do. And last night a spokesman for that agency said there is a chance that they may stop all rescue efforts inside the mine. Now, we have heard that that work that's taking place way up on top of a mountain, where they're drilling down into the mine, that work is still continuing.

HATTORI: That's to get the little access holes for further insight into what's going on down there?

BRADY: Exactly. Well, they're trying to reach those miners and establish communication with them, assuming that they're still alive.

HATTORI: The University of Utah says it's recorded at least 20 seismic events around the mine site since August 6th. And in fact a spokesman is saying that the mountain is literally collapsing in slow motion. Is that what it seems like to you?

BRADY: Well, it does seem like every day we're hearing about these bumps that the miners call them, where the earth is shifting around the mine. And these are violent events. The coal just shoots from the walls. We heard about yesterday, there's this thing called the continuous miner, huge 65-ton machine that continuously takes coal out of that mine. And after one of these bumps, it was half-covered in coal. It took them a couple of hours to dig it out.

HATTORI: The six trapped miners were working at the depth of 1800 feet. And some experts say that's a risky depth because it's approaching the load-bearing limit of coal. Do people there talk about the wisdom of mining at increasing depth? Is it all the matter of financial pressure to produce all the coal they can?

BRADY: Well, you know, I've talked to a lot of folks at nearby Huntington, Utah and the towns surrounding that. And folks here know a lot about coal mining because everybody has a family member who's worked in a mine. And they all feel pretty confident that this work is relatively safe. I mean, they know the dangers, but they feel confident that the engineers who have figured this stuff out are doing it right. Now, this particular case is raising a lot of questions that most of those folks still remain confident that their family members who work in the mines are being well taken care of.

HATTORI: And how have they reacted to this second accident? It must be a blow for the town of Huntington. How are they handling it?

BRADY: Oh, it's absolutely devastating. And especially since it comes just after we received this news that some sound waves had been detected inside of the mountain and the rescue organizers here said that that provided a little bit of hope. But for folks in town it might as well had been said that the miners were alive and that they were about to rescue them because people really latched onto that hope. And then to learn that three of the rescuers had been killed in the operation, it's just devastating.

HATTORI: NPR's Jeff Brady at the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah. Thanks.

BRADY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.
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