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Risks facing miners, rescuers

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Mining expert Bruce Dial says if methane is present, some rescue equipment cannot be used.

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Emergency Incidents
Disasters (General)
West Virginia

(CNN) -- Twelve miners were trapped more than a mile underground after a coal mine explosion in West Virginia, officials said Monday.

Six other miners were able to get out.

Search and rescue teams were getting ready to go into the mine Monday evening. (Full story)

CNN anchor Tony Harris spoke with mining expert Bruce Dial about the risks and possible rescue methods.

TONY HARRIS: Rescue teams were not able to get into the mine because of this wall of debris that stopped an initial attempt. So if you're hearing that methane gas is in the area of the mine, give us a sense of what it is that rescue teams and emergency management officials can hope to accomplish eight hours since the explosion.

BRUCE DIAL, mining expert: If they're having problems with methane gas, that means methane gas is being liberated into the mine, which could cause another explosion. And they don't want another explosion to occur while their mine rescue teams are in there.

The wall of debris might need equipment or cutting torches or something like that to get through that wall of debris. So if the methane gas is present, they wouldn't be able to use any of that equipment, because it would cause another explosion.

HARRIS: Are there pieces of equipment that we can send down to test the level of methane in that mine? Any other kinds of visual technologies available for us to get a sense of what the problems are there?

DIAL: Some mines have the methane sniffers throughout the mine. They are on equipment. But the problem would be: Are they still operating, can you get to them? The handheld meters that the mine rescue people would use would only be good for their immediate area. So if they got to the wall of debris and they found other methane there, that would tell them it would be too dangerous to do any work there.

HARRIS: Are you familiar with the situation in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, in 2002, where after 77 hours, a number of miners were rescued? Are you familiar with that situation?

DIAL: Yes. That was a water inundation. That's where the mine broke into another mine that had water built up in it and all of that water came into the mine that they were in. And they were trapped in there due to the water.

HARRIS: So methane was not an issue, as you recall it?

DIAL: No, it was a water inundation that was the big problem there. And those men were able to get in a high area, so they were -- still could breathe.

HARRIS: What's the course of action if you're a miner trapped in this mine where methane is clearly at issue -- what do you have? What kind of equipment do you have? And how long can you hope to sustain yourself?

DIAL: Well, the miners would have their (inaudible) units, which would supply oxygen for a certain period of time, usually about an hour. If they have their handheld methane testers, they can test for areas that has methane in it.

And maybe try to get to a different area. If it's the carbon monoxide because of the fire going on, they would try to get to an area that has ventilation going through it. That would be the best they could do.

HARRIS: And if you're on the emergency management side of this, what are you doing to try to affect these rescues?

DIAL: What you're trying to do is organize the teams to make sure you have sufficient people to do that because you would have the teams working in shifts. They would work in shifts of two to four hours.

You'd have one team looking for people, another team removing barricades, another team preparing to go in to relieve the other ones. You would be trying to get some type of communication, find the broken wires or whatever. I'm sure they're doing everything they can to try to locate where the miners are, making sure the maps are up to date and that kind of thing.

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