Second blast rips through New Zealand mine; all 29 miners dead (Second Lead)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

WELLINGTON - In the worst mining disaster in New Zealand in nearly 100 years, all 29 miners trapped 120 metres underground died Wednesday when a second explosion tore through the Pike River coal mine, ending in tragedy a six-day anxious wait for their families.

Police confirmed in a media briefing Wednesday that there was an explosion at the West Coast mine at 2.37 p.m. and that they believe there was no chance any of the miners survived. The first blast had taken place Friday - which led to the miners being trapped inside.

Police Superintendent Gary Knowles, who headed the rescue operation, made the announcement to the media. He had been in the constant spotlight of the media for the past five days.

“Unfortunately, I have to inform the public of New Zealand at 2.37 p.m. today there was another massive explosion underground and based on that explosion no one would have survived,” Knowles was quoted as saying by the New Zealand Herald.

“I was at the mine myself when it actually occurred and the blast was prolific, just as severe as the first blast,” he said.

A bigger disaster than Wednesday’s blast occurred in Ralph’s mine in Huntly in September 1914, when 43 miners were killed when a miner’s naked light ignited firedamp gas.

Pike River Coal chief executive Peter Whittall said it was still unsafe for a recovery team to enter the mine, but he still wants them back.

“Their families want them back. We want our boys back. We want them out,” he said.

Hope for the miners - aged 17 to 62 - was fading day by day as a rescue party was unable to enter the mine because air samples showed the risk of another explosion from toxic gases.

Families of the miners “fell to the floor screaming and were in absolute despair” when they heard the news.

Tony Kokshoorn, mayor of Grey district, broke down into tears after leaving the press briefing held to announce the blast.

Kokshoorn, who described it as the “darkest day”, said the miners’ families were angry and distraught at the news.

“The families and communities of the dead miners have been changed forever by today’s catastrophic blast. This has got to be the darkest day for me. For Greymouth, for everywhere, this is the darkest day,” he said. “Things are never going to be the same.”

The families were hoping that the miners would be rescued after camera-mounted robots entered the mine early Wednesday.

“They were screaming at them. It was absolute despair. When the news came, everyone just cracked up. People were openly weeping everywhere,” Kokshoorn said, adding that many of them fell to the floor screaming.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key would travel to West Coast Thursday in the hope he can meet the families and offer his condolences, while Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee said there would be inquiries into what happened at the mine.

Indian-origin Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand said grief from the deaths of the mine workers “will be felt for many years to come”.

“This is a disaster that will be felt at many levels. First and foremost, it is a great personal loss for the individual families and friends of those who died,” he said.

Filed under: Accidents and Disasters

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