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Archive for Saturday, August 25, 2007

Utah community rallies around miners’ families

August 25, 2007

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— Relatives of six men trapped in the depths of a mountain coal mine were once content to let their mine boss speak for them.

But after Bob Murray offended them at several meetings, and now that he has said the rescue efforts will soon halt, the families have grown more comfortable going public with their outrage.

Now their community is coming to their aid, putting aside differences and putting up signs in front windows and on sandwich boards outside restaurants, begging the mine owner not to give up. One group has even floated the long-shot idea of digging a rescue hole of its own.

The federal government, which would have to give approval, has said it isn't going to happen. But it captures the frustration of a community holding out hope that they can save the miners - or at least recover their bodies - despite appearances that those in power may have given up.

As for an independently dug rescue hole, "I don't think we could entertain that sort of thing," said Allyn Davis, who oversees Western operations for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. "It's a safety issue, and I just don't see that as a possibility."

The six men have been missing since the Aug. 6 cave-in that Murray, the Crandall Canyon Mine co-owner, insists was caused by an earthquake. Seismologists say the mountain is crumbling upon itself, bursting support pillars as it shifts in a phenomenon known as a mountain bump - something that killed three rescuers last week. No one has been allowed into the mine underground since then.

Officials have continued drilling narrow holes into the mountain to lower cameras to look for the men and test for breathable air. The sixth and final hole should be finished today.

If there's no sign of life, the search will likely be called off - the men sealed in the coal mine more than 1,500 feet beneath the surface.

But families and friends of the men have raised their voices, accusing Murray of abandoning a promise to find the men, dead or alive.

Some critics are calling for a hole dug to accommodate a person-size capsule that has been used in other mine rescues to pull people to the surface. But officials say the men are too far down, the mountain too unstable.

So messages of hope blanket store windows. And hardly a night passes without a fundraising event for the families. Late this week, fliers appeared under car windshield wipers, stuffed in mail slots and hung in windows: "Leave No Man Behind," they declared.

It's not clear who is leading the efforts, but the flier called for area residents to come support the "wives and families of our 6 trapped miners" at a gathering Friday night in the nearby town of Helper.

At the benefit, community members wore T-shirts saying, "God bless all coal miners" and bid on auction items to benefit the missing miners' families.

"Don't forget the families - any of them," said Mike Dalpiaz, the mayor of Helper and the international vice president of the United Mine Workers' District 22 in Price.

He drew loud applause from the crowd after thanking Gov. Jon Huntsman for pushing to get the men out.

An attorney for the mine company did not immediately comment on the push for a community-led rescue effort.

"It's 'leave no man behind' because people know it could have been them," said Kristen Potter, a Huntington resident, after she learned of the flier.

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