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Updated: June 21, 2010 18:51 IST

25 killed, four missing in mine blast

Narayan Lakshman
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West Virginia State Police direct traffic at the entrance to the Upper Big Branch Coal Mine on Monday in Montcoal, West Va.
AP West Virginia State Police direct traffic at the entrance to the Upper Big Branch Coal Mine on Monday in Montcoal, West Va.

A “horrific blast” at a mine in West Virginia on Monday afternoon left at least 25 miners dead and four more unaccounted for, according to Kevin Stricklin of the United States Mine Safety and Health Administration.

In what has come to be regarded as the worst U.S. mining disaster in over 25 years, the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine occurred at about 3 p.m., during a shift change. Some reports suggested that a methane gas build-up was the suspected cause of the blast, while others noted that the mine has a troubled safety record, with three other deaths occurring in the past 12 years.

Mr. Stricklin said that it could take up to two days to drill bore holes into the coal mine, which is owned by the Massey Energy Company and located about 48 kilometres south of Charleston, West Virginia.

“We are still in a rescue mode and when you are in a rescue mode you are still doing everything you can, you are still praying for that miracle… These are just tough times… When the reports are all done you will see, that with the damage done to rails and that sort of thing is substantial. It was a horrific blast,” West Virginia's Governor, Joe Manchin, said at a press conference today.

The U.S. Secretary of Labour, Hilda L. Solis, was quoted as saying that the MSHA would “investigate this tragedy and take action… Miners should never have to sacrifice their lives for their livelihood,” Ms. Solis said in a statement.

With over nine rescue teams working onsite on evacuating any survivors, reports said that their main goal was to reach the mine's internal rescue chambers where miners are trained to seek refuge after an accident.

The rescue teams noted that some breathing devices had been taken from storage areas inside the mine. This, Mr. Stricklin said, gave officials hope that some of the miners who survived the initial explosion may have taken them to make breathing easier as they made their way to the chambers.

Massey Energy Company, headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, is the largest coal producer in Central Appalachia with operations in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia.

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