Friday, August 17, 2007

Down There

3 Rescue Workers Killed at Utah Mine
HUNTINGTON, Utah (AP) -- The search for six miners missing deep underground was abruptly halted after a second cave-in killed three rescue workers and injured at least six others who were trying to tunnel through rubble to reach them.

It was a devastating turn for the families of the six men trapped in the Aug. 6 collapse at the Crandall Canyon mine and for the relatives of those trying to rescue them. It's not known if the six are alive.

All rescue workers were evacuated from the mine Thursday evening and work underground was stopped. Asked if the search would be suspended, "that's something to be determined," said Rich Kulczewski, a U.S. Department of Labor spokesman.

The cave-in at 6:39 p.m. was caused by a mountain bump in which pressure can force chunks of coal from walls of the mine with great force. Seismologists say such a bump caused the Aug. 6 cave-in that trapped the six men more than 3 miles inside the central Utah mine. That led to the frenetic effort by rescuers to dig through the mine toward the men and drill narrow holes atop the mountain in an attempt to learn their whereabouts and perhaps drop down food and water.

It was not immediately clear where the rescuers were working or what they were doing when Thursday's bump occurred.

Underground, rescuers had advanced only 826 feet in nine days. Before Thursday's cave-in, workers still had about 1,200 feet to go to reach the area where they believe the trapped men had been working.

Mining officials said conditions in the mine were treacherous, and they were frequently forced to halt digging because of seismic activity.

New York Times:
It is beyond belief that in this Information Age, when new technologies can eavesdrop on any conversation and track people around the globe, rescue teams have no way to communicate with the six miners trapped underground in the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah. Instead they are drilling holes in the ground to where they guess the miners might be.

It needn’t be so. For too long, the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress allowed mine operators to put off making needed investments to ensure their workers’ safety. And last year when a string of coal-mining disasters — that killed 48 miners — forced Congress to enact new safety legislation, it still gave companies far too much time to install communications systems that might have helped find the Utah miners.

There is technology available today that combines cable and wireless systems to link miners far below the surface and teams above. This technology does not guarantee perfect communications in the case of a cave-in or other accident, but it is certainly much better than nothing.

Rather than requiring that such systems be installed immediately, the mining legislation passed last year gave mine operators — many of whom resisted all new safety standards — until 2009 to develop and install more sophisticated two-way wireless communications systems that could resist cave-ins and penetrate through the layers of rock and coal. The bleak outlook for the six miners in Utah, who have been trapped underground for more than a week, underscores how urgent it is to have some way, even if imperfect, to track and communicate with miners in case of another disaster.
There have always been invisible people doing the dirty work that nobody else wants to do.

They're the people who clean the filthy toilets, remove the road kill from our highways, and mop up the vomit and blood left behind. Throughout the years the invisible people picked cotton, built the railroads, fought in wars, and worked in the toxic waste dump called Ground Zero. Most of the time we forget that everything in this country that we enjoy has been brought to us at a terrible cost. Some of the invisible people that we ignore are miners. They help keep us warm. However, it's uncomfortable to think about it too much, so we pretend it's magic and make it go away. Sometimes it works.

We only see them when they're dead.