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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 August 2007, 08:38 GMT 09:38 UK
Hope turns to anger in Utah mining town
By Jennifer Stagg
Huntington, Utah

Flickers of hope in the small Utah mining town of Huntington have given way to frustration and anger.

Sign in Huntingdon - 20/08/2007
Some people think the trapped miners may still be alive
Relatives of six miners trapped underground since 6 August say officials promised that, dead or alive, their loved ones would come home.

But last Thursday, rescue efforts took a tragic twist.

As crews were drilling underground in search of their lost colleagues, there was a build-up of pressure inside the mine.

Support beams snapped like twigs and earth and rock collapsed on top of nine search and rescue miners.

Mine safety worker Jeff Palmer was working above ground when he got a phone call that something below had gone terribly wrong.

He and another safety worker were the first to arrive on the scene, and quickly went to work, pulling 29-year-old Brandon Kimber from the rubble.

"It was like a bad dream," Mr Palmer said. "I was hoping we would come back with six men alive, and this happens, well, it's devastating."

Sharp criticism

Mr Kimber was one of three rescue workers who died from injuries sustained in that second collapse, along with Dale Ray Black, 48, and Gary Jensen, 53.

Funerals for the three were taking place this week, but the families said laying the men to rest would not bring closure - not with the six men they died trying to save still trapped in the Crandall Canyon mine.

Funeral for mine rescue worker Gary Jensen - 22/08/2007
Workers killed trying to rescue the miners were buried on Wednesday

After Thursday's second collapse, officials said that all underground drilling had been halted.

They said they would continue the search with drilling from above ground, but with five holes drilled so far, no sign of the men, and the air quality in the last two holes unable to support human life, officials said they believed the men may never be found.

Unidentified mine employees, former federal mine inspectors, and the United Mine Workers of America have criticised the working conditions at the mine.

Blake Hannah, a retired inspector who used to examine the Crandall Canyon mine, said the high number of "man-made earthquakes" since the first collapse, as well as reports from miners of weakening floor boards and pillars, indicated that warning signs were ignored.

"In my opinion, there were bad mining practices," Mr Hannah said.

The figure who had been a solid image of the search and rescue operation, the mine's owner, Bob Murray, broke from his usual practice and did not speak to the media in the days following the rescue workers' deaths.

A representative from Murray Energy Corporation said he was attending to the families.

On Sunday evening, however, the families broke their own silence and had sharp criticism of Mr Murray and the US government officials in charge of the operation.

"My brother is trapped underground, and I'm hearing that they're basically giving up," said Steve Allred, brother of Cary Allred.

"That's not acceptable. I can't live with that, his family can't live with that. We've got to have closure."

Final attempt

The families say what will give them closure is a 30-inch hole large enough for a rescue capsule to be lowered through.

The say they still believe there is time to find a survivor and that Mr Murray may have given up hope, but they have not.

Bob Murray - owner Crandall Canyon Mine - 22/08/2007
Mine owner Bob Murray said he had had an emotional breakdown
On Wednesday, Mr Murray responded to the criticism that he was running an unsafe mine and had deserted the miners before the search was completed.

"I didn't desert anybody," he said. "I've been living on this mountain every day, living in a little trailer."

He also said he had an emotional breakdown after the second collapse and has been in the care of a doctor ever since.

Mr Murray says he has plans to drill a sixth hole from the surface in an attempt to find the missing men, but all underground searching has stopped.

He added that if the sixth hole also showed no sign of the miners, he would shut the mine and the mountain would become their final resting place.

"I do not believe they could have survived a 4.0 seismic activity," Murray said.

"I told the families that three days ago. They say I'm not doing enough. I pray to God I am."

Back in Huntington, the handmade paper signs with words of encouragement are crinkled and smeared from the rain.

Those paper signs have not lasted the 17 days since the first collapse, but the victims' families say they still have faith that their loved ones are clinging to life in the darkness.

When asked if he thought his brother was still alive, Steve Allred said: "I do, from the bottom of my soul I do. I've felt it from day one and I've never lost that feeling."

Three die in Utah rescue attempt
17 Aug 07 |  Americas
Setback for Utah rescue mission
11 Aug 07 |  Americas
Little oxygen found in Utah mine
11 Aug 07 |  Americas
Three killed in US mine accident
10 Aug 07 |  Americas
Drill reaches Utah mine chamber
10 Aug 07 |  Americas

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