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THE SITUATION ROOM
Mine Official: A Week to Reach Trapped Miners
Aired August 7, 2007 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, GUEST HOST: You are in THE SITUATION ROOM; happening now a mine official says it will may take three days to find out if those trapped miners are dead or alive. Crews dig through walls of solid rock to send down food and oxygen.
Also, terrifying disaster the moment it happened. We have new video of the Minneapolis Bridge as it buckled up and tragically swallowed up so many cars.
And some people hoping to enforce the law get a pass for breaking it. The FBI has new rules for applicants who smoke marijuana.
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux, and you're in the SITUATION ROOM.
They have been trapped for more than 30 hours, and officials say it could take two more days to find them. Right now, crews in Utah are moving heaven and earth to find those six miners somewhere deep underground. Even with machinery weighing thousands of tons and around the clock operations, mine officials are disappointed with their progress. Our own CNN Ted Rowlands is at the mine. Ted, what do you have as the latest?
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Suzanne as you mentioned mine officials disappointed in the progress. Family members very disappointed with the news you are getting. Hasn't been horrible news but it has been you must wait longer. Now three days they are thinking, at least another two before they will find out whether their loved ones are dead or alive.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JULIE JONES: I mean, I'm a mom. You know, I want him safe this. Is what he does.
ROWLANDS: When she first heard men were trapped, Julie Jones said she was told her 23-year-old son Elam was in the mine.
JONES: There has been a mine cave in. Elam is up there.
ROWLANDS: It turned out that Elam who worked at the Crandall Canyon Mine for two years is fine. Now is part of the team desperately working around the clock trying to reach the six that are still trapped.
JONES: He said mom, we're digging with our hands at one time. Just to help get those guys out. We're doing whatever we can do to get the guys out.
ROWLANDS: While the desperate rescue operation goes on inside the mine family members are gathered at a local school going through what much be an excruciating wait to find out the fate of their loved ones.
JONES: They don't say anything. We nod and tap our hearts because our prayers are with them.
ROWLANDS: The trapped miners are all described as family men. Ranging in age between their 20's and late 40s. Three of the six are Mexican nationals.
SALVADOR JIMENEZ, MEXICAN CONSULATE, SALT LAKE CITY: In Mexico, they are given great importance to this news that we have a great sense of solidarity with our own people.
JONES: We want them home. We want them home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROWLANDS: And that is the sentiments of this entire small mining community. Everybody waiting on pins and needles, desperately hoping for news as the desperate search continues, crews working 24 hours trying to get the trapped miners, they are hoping to get a listening device in there at some point. Today we are hoping for a briefing in a few hours. Hopefully they'll make contact with these six. But at this point, Suzanne, no contact at all.
MALVEAUX: Well we hope there is good news later. Thank you for bringing us the latest. Also, we're trying to figure out how this all happened. Bob Murray the head of the company that operates that mine, he's adamant about what he says caused the mine's cave in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB MURRAY, PRESIDENT, CEO, MURRAY ENERGY CORP: This is the first major accident I've had in one of my coal mines in 20 years of being in existence. The first major accident. This was caused by an earthquake, not something that Murray Energy or Utah American did, or our employees did or our management did, or that the Mine Safety and Health Administration did, it was a natural disaster.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: But some experts are adamant against Murray's theory. One of them is joining me on the phone from Golden Colorado. Harley Benz is with the National Earthquake Information Center. Thank you for joining us here in the SITUATION ROOM. I want you to start first by asking you to respond to what Bob Murray said. He said this is natural disaster, do you agree?
HARLEY BENZ, NATIONAL EARTHQUAKE INFORMATION CENTER (via telephone): Our data suggest that what we observed was a mine collapse. The signal that we recorded on of the seismic stations in the area and throughout the western U.S. had characteristics that were not typical of a natural occurring earthquake.
MALVEAUX: So what does that mean? Was there some sort of activity that happened after this cave-in that you picked up, or was there some sort of disaster or earthquake that happened before? Help us understand.
BENZ: Well, the basic information or observations that we have is that we have a seismic event in the proximity of the mine. We know that it is shallow, we know that its magnitude, which is 3.9 is not atypical of other mine collapse that we've observed in the western U.S. and elsewhere, and that the seismic signal reported on the seismograph is not typical of earthquake signals but it is more characteristic of collapses. In order to understand this, we're certainly going to have to do a lot more modeling and we re doing this in conjunction with scientists at University of Utah.
MALVEAUX: Bob Murray said this happened below where the miners were actually working. He is suggesting because it happened below where they were located, that that is what caused the cave-in at the site where they were working.
BENZ: We don't really know that. Of all of the seismic parameters that we measure, getting estimates of the depths are the most problematic. The best we can do at this point without a lot of further analysis is say that it was relatively shallow.
MALVEAUX: Harley Benz, thank you so much for the latest update. Of course we'll be getting back to you shortly as well.
Joining me is now is CNN meteorologist Chad Myers from the CNN Center in Atlanta. And Chad what are other experts saying about whether or not an earth quake happened? This is somewhat confusing I think at this point.
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We talked to Doctor Arebas (ph) from the University of Utah. He said that all of the indications that he saw when the big strike was going on the seismograph was that it did not look to him originally like an earthquake; it looked like a collapse, some type of implosion. Let's get to this graphic behind me. We'll show you what went on, and what is still going on with this area. This is the mine entrance area, about 100 miles from Salt Lake City. The big red area that you see there, that is the permit area. That's the permit that they have to operate this mine. This mine can be operated under this entire area, and not outside of this area. So what the CEO, Mr. Murray was talking about, was wait a minute. This is the original earthquake.
Right there, there's the 3.9, it's not under our permit. It's somewhere else, it's about a quarter mile away. But, the problem with this trying to target down the GPS four feet away. They can't do it. There aren't enough of these seismographs around Utah to pinpoint it down to the mile or down to the foot. Now look at all these other dots, Suzanne. These are all after quakes or aftershocks. If this was not an earthquake. These would not be aftershocks. These would be mine tremors. There's 1.2, 1.6, 1.2. That would be more of the mine collapsing inside. This may still be going on in there. Where pieces of the mine are falling from the roof and falling from the ceiling and collapsing on these guys. We don't know exactly where it is.
But we don't believe that this is where the men were. But it doesn't mean that is not where the earthquake occurred or the tremor occurred or the rock blast occurred. You have all of these columns of coal. The columns of coal are holding up the big rock that's above it. The columns of coal can shatter. It's relatively fragile. If it shatters with all that weight then you get the shaking and then it is one after another after another. This is like a domino effect as one column shatters after another. We will have to wait, they are in there. Our hearts are with the miners that are trapped. This will all be worked out in some point of time.
MALVEAUX: Chad, thank you so much. Obviously a still very dangerous situation for those who are trying to rescue them as well.
A terrifying disaster as it unfolded. We have new video of that Minneapolis Bridge as it buckled and broke. In it, we see frightening motorists running for their lives.
Also, if you are frequently smoked marijuana this in the past you are now clear to apply for a job at the FBI. We will explain.
And celebrity sacrifice actress Mia Farrow is offering to be taken prisoner. She is so passionate about an issue she is willing to exchange her freedom for that of another.
MALVEAUX: We take you now to Minneapolis where there are remarkable new pictures today of the moment of the collapse at the I- 35 west bridge. Divers from both FBI and U.S. Navy have hit the waters of the Mississippi to help with the recovery efforts. Our CNN Susan Roesgen is in Minneapolis. And Susan tell us about this new video, obviously very disturbing.
SUSAN ROESGEN CNN CORRESPONDENT: Disturbing and fascinating too. What you're going to see is video from an ordinary traffic camera that should have been showing normal bridge traffic a week ago at about 6:00 on Wednesday. First segment of the video you actually see the cars traveling normally. You got two lanes southbound and two lanes northbound. You may be able to see in the right hand corner of the screen the last car to safely exit the bridge. Then I want to show you the second segment of video. This is the actual bridge collapse at 6:05 p.m. Local Time a week ago Wednesday. You see some of the cars Suzanne actually backing up, trying to get away from the danger. In the distance you see a black hole where the bridge would have gone across the Mississippi River and plumes of smoke coming up from the collapse.
Finally, this is the piece of video that I find most compelling. This is a guy who must have nerves of steel. His car is dangling over the edge of the bridge. What does he do? He walks over; he opens the trunk of the car, gets something out of the trunk, then walks around from the passenger side and gets something out of the passenger side, a really cool dude. We don't know what was so important that he felt he needed to get it out of the car while it was dangling on the edge of the bridge in the middle of a bridge collapse. But that's what he did.
Again very interesting video, real video from a week ago from 6:05 on Wednesday. And in fact tonight Suzanne they're going to have a moment of silence. The mayor of Minneapolis has asked for a moment of silence at 6:05 tonight to coincide with National Night Out Against Crime, it is a day early. But since people will be out on the streets here, he wants them to observe a moment of silence to remember the people who died in that bridge collapse.
MALVEAUX: And Susan give us a sense, what is the update on the search and recovery efforts that are there?
ROESGEN: No bodies recovered yet, there are still eight people missing. Today the divers brought up a car., the FBI divers and the navy divers especially trained in salvage and retrieval. Brought up a car that they wanted to get out of the way because they say there's underwater wreckage where they believe some of those victims may be pinned. They'll be working on that in the next couple of days.
MALVEAUX: OK, Susan, thank you s much for bringing us that incredible new video. The Minneapolis bridge collapse has triggered a new urgency about bridge and road repair, so much so that the governor is having a change of heart what it takes to get things done more quickly. What he does sets the tone for other states. Our CNN's Mary Snow joining us now. Mary does this mean a state tax hike perhaps?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne in Minnesota it very well could and one law maker says the rest of the country should take note.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW (voice over): A change of heart following a disaster. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty now says he will consider raising the states gas tax to pay for road and bridge repairs. It is an idea the Republican governor has vetoed twice. But after the Minneapolis bridge collapse a spokesman for the governor says all funding sing options on the table. It is welcome news to a Democratic state law maker who has been pushing for the tax for road repairs. Still he said it should have happened sooner.
STEVE MURPHY, (D) MINNESOTA STATE SENATE: That's what I'm outraged about. We shouldn't have gotten to this point or the point in the country where we're at.
SNOW: But the move comes with a price. The governor hasn't put an estimate on any proposed gas tax but some say it could cost drivers in Minnesota more than $700 a year.
MURPHY: This has cost him $750 more a year. That means that they can't have that Starbucks coffee five times a week. They'll have to cut down to one or two. People will have to make some sacrifices in their budget.
SNOW: Many states are looking for alternatives to the ever unpopular gas tax. In Oregon there is pilot program to tax drivers according to the mileage they drive in the state; in Indiana a revenue generating idea tested leasing a toll road to a private entity.
I think Minnesota taught us that a lot of states have infrastructure problems and need to invest a lot of money into transportation infrastructure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: And in Minnesota a spokesman for the governor said it's likely the governor will call a special session of the legislature right after Labor Day to work out a way to pay for these repairs.
MALVEAUX: And Mary is there's a sense in Minnesota that if more had been put in to repairs perhaps this bridge collapse could have been averted?
SNOW: You know I asked the state lawmaker who was one of the biggest critics of the governor, not excepting this gas tax hike, and he there's really no way you can say that. But he said one thing is certain that if there had been more money invested over the last 15 years the roads wouldn't be in the shape they are.
MALVEAUX: Sure. Mary Snow, thank you. Once again, the current total Minnesota gas tax is 40.4 cents a gallon. That is below the national average of about 46 cents. That includes a federal gas tax of 18.4 cents and Minnesota's fuel tax which has stayed the same since 1988 raised $629 million last year. All of the proceeds are spent on highway purposes.
The State Transportation Department estimates a one cent hike would raise $51 million more each year.
And up ahead, fears of arming Sunni in Iraq. Some worry they could turn against the U.S. But does the U.S. have better options?
And watch what you eat. A report says a million pounds of worry some seafood from China made it to the tables of millions of Americans. How could this have happened?
MALVEAUX: Our Carol Costello is monitoring stories incoming the SITUATION ROOM right now. Carol what are you looking at, at this moment?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lots of hot weather, much of the country is baking and blistering. Triple digit heat in the first serious heat of the year. What's more, it is humid. That's making the heat index shoot up as much, as high as 110 or more.
Construction crews in St. Louis ordered to take frequent breaks at cooling stations. Other adults and children or people with respiratory illnesses are being warned to stay indoors. A federal judge in Los Angeles says the U.S. Navy may no longer use high powered sonar during exercises off the coast of southern California. The judge ruled that the strong under water sounds could cause wide-spread damage to whales and other marine animals. The judge issued the temporary injunction after the Navy challenged a lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
And a new report says that at least a million pounds of seafood from China wound up on store shelves and on U.S. dinner plates despite a federal alert. The "Associated Press" is reporting that frozen shrimp, catfish and eel were supposed to be screened for drugs or chemicals before they left U.S. ports. Since last fall records show one of four shipments slipped through without being tested.
And despite a nationwide slump in housing. An increase in credit problems and trouble on Wall Street the Federal Reserve is holding steady. The Fed today left interest rates unchanged. Its key federal funds lending rates stand at 5.75 percent. That means lending rates down the line should remain steady as well.
Back to you, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: OK. Thanks Carol Costello. We return to the cave mine collapse and the owner of the mine who has got very emotional.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB MURRAY: I'm disappointed. Disappointed with our progress in gaining access to these trapped miners. But of course, to us, progress is never fast enough, in a situation like this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Bob Murray, the head of the company that operates that mine in Utah, our Carol Costello has a profile of him.
And a history of smoking marijuana will no longer disqualify you from a job at the FBI. We'll explain.
MALVEAUX: You are in the SITUATION ROOM, happening now, the owner of the Utah coal mine where six miners remain trapped says it will take at least two more days to reach them. Rescue workers have moved 310 feet toward the trapped men. It is unknown if they are still alive.
The Pentagon says for the first time in two months the U.S. army expects to meet its recruiting goals. Initial tallies show the army with 9,000 new recruits for July. Official numbers will come on Friday.
United Nations warns that monsoon rains and flash flooding could cause massive health crises in southern Asia. Thirty million people have been overwhelmed by the disasters conditions in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Wolf Blitzer is off today I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you're in the SITUATION ROOM.
The head of the company that operates that Utah mine says he has never experienced anything like this worrisome mine cave-in that has left six miners trapped. We have more on the top story. Joining me now is Carol Costello. Carol you've been taking a closer look at Bob Murray. What have you found?
COSTELLO: Well he's an interesting guy, Suzanne. Bob Murray didn't hold a news conference today. He had a conversation about god, mining and America. This is a self-made man who mortgaged his house to buy a coal mine. Today he has 11. According to the "Wall Street Journal," they make $800 million a year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COSTELLO (voice over): Bob Murray loves god, America, family and coal. Telling the nation ---
MURRAY: I don't know whether these miners are alive or dead. Only the lord knows that.
COSTELLO: And that he's grieving too, along with the miners' families.
MURRAY: This is a tragedy for them. This is a tragedy for America and for me.
COSTELLO: But Murray is insisting this tragedy was not his fault. His attempt to stop the traffic noise around him so we could hear him clearly has already made youtube.
MURRAY: Have the sheriff stop all of this traffic until I'm done. I can't talk like this. This was an earthquake.
COSTELLO: But the chief scientists at the National Earthquake Information Center says an earthquake did not cause the mine collapse. Those who know Murray says this is vintage Murray, a sometimes volatile man whose personal mission is to save coal industry. Who told me back in April Al Gore's talk of global warming was hurting the industry.
MURRAY: I would describe Al Gore as the showman of global goofiness, and gloom and doom.
COSTELLO: the United Mine Workers of America describe Murray as not easy to deal with. At the news conference Murray attacked the union and some former federal officials for what they are saying about the Utah mining tragedy.
MURRAY: These individuals have given false statements to the media and to America for their own motives.
COSTELLO: Then he blasted the media for quoting them. MURRAY: I respectfully request that you report the truth that you have been told by the company, MSHA and me. And not the speculation from individuals who have no knowledge whatsoever of the earthquake, its aftereffects.
COSTELLO: Trough it all Murray touted himself as an old coal miner who experienced trauma underground himself.
MURRAY: I don't have much hair. But I've been doing this for 50 years, mining coal, that's all I know. I've had men die in my arms.
COSTELLO: He is not a man who easily backs down. In 2001, he filed a billion, a billion dollar defamation suit against The Akron Beacon Journal for a profile it published about him. He didn't like being called a coal baron or his competitors calling him "Honest Bob." A settlement was finally reached, but the terms were not disclosed -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Carol, that was quite a press conference. Thank you so much for giving us a closer look at that.
And we also want to look at some of the various methods being used in this recovery effort. This diagram is not to scale, but it does give us an idea of what is happening at the Utah mine right now. Crews are drilling away at the solid rock from the top of the mine. They hope to bore a two-inch hole into the cavity so they can send down food and air.
Crews are also using horizontal drilling techniques, but the head of the mine's operator says it is not an effective course of recovery. He cites see geological conditions and the location of the miners. For more now on what the crews can do to get those trapped miners out, Davitt McAteer joining us from Shepherdstown, West Virginia. He took part in the investigation into the Sago Mine disaster in which 12 miners died last year.
Thank you very much for joining us again in THE SITUATION ROOM. Let's talk a little bit about what they're trying to accomplish here. When they drill those two-inch holes, what can they actually do?
DAVITT MCATEER, MINE SAFETY INVESTIGATOR: Suzanne, what they are trying to do to drill the two-inch hole is an effort to try to establish communication, establish a means to put some supplies in, food or some water or some other way, and also a means to identify where the miners are located and what their conditions are.
If they are lucky, and if they guess right, they will try to go in and get communications established by drilling this hole down and putting a microphone down it or some other signaling device to identify to the miners that they have put this microphone down.
Then if the miners come to that and speak to them, then they'll be able to establish the status that the miners are in, their physical condition, what their needs are. Then hopefully if that's done successfully, they will drill a larger hole to extract the miners out much like was done in the Quecreek case.
MALVEAUX: And so the microphone goes down, they try to establish communication with the miners. If they don't hear anything from the miners, then what happens? Do they still drill a bigger hole and try to go down?
MCATEER: Depends on sort of what they find. In this case, we don't expect to find any toxic gases. We don't expect to find a toxic atmosphere. If you go down and find nothing, there are two choices. You can send the camera down to try it, with a light on it essentially, to try scan the area nearest to the mine hole.
And if you can find miners then, that would show you something about their current conditions. If you can't find them at all, then you might have to make a chance of drilling a second hole. That's a difficulty.
Mr. Murray has suggested that he knows where they are. They think they know where they are. They would know that by the fact that they had -- where they've been assigned to work during the day. Now, the magnitude of this seismic event and the force that was unleashed may have changed the situation.
We don't know that and we won't know that until we get down. They might find that the rock fall, for example, where the rock has changed in the area where they expected to find the tunnel or the mine has been filled up with rock.
MCATEER: On the other hand, they may find that it's an open tunnel and that the miners are there. But it's a chance they have to take. It's the only option that we have, it appears, of going in, rather than go in through the mine's tunnels that were driven earlier, because they have been filled with coal and rock.
MALVEAUX: And what kind of food could you actually put in that small tunnel that you dig?
MCATEER: Well, the Chinese, two weeks ago, put down a hose and put milk down it, which is a good answer, because it supplies both liquids and sustenance, some nutrients. But that's how you would start. You would get them some nutrients and get them some basic kind of -- to keep them alive.
Then after that, you would simultaneously drill a second hole, either nearby or expand a small hole and drill a second hole that would allow you to put down actual food that has been done in some other cases in some other rescue situations.
Then thirdly, you would try to go and drill a larger hole to allow you to take a chamber down, a vessel down to be able to extract each of the miners.
MALVEAUX: Based on what we know, the miners are 1,500 feet underground. There has not been a lot of progress. Give us a sense of how much time you think these miners have.
MCATEER: We've been into this 35 hour now...
MALVEAUX: Mr. McAteer, I'm sorry, we're going to have to interrupt. The governor is now speaking on this very issue. Let's take a listen.
GOV. JON HUNTSMAN (R), UTAH: ... activity continues which makes the rescue effort particularly difficult. But I guess for me the bottom line is this. And all Utahns and all who are interested in this story need to understand this. And that is all that can be done is being done. To the best of our ability, we've looked at what is being done. The professionals are here. We stand by as a state to help supplement and do anything beyond that which is currently being undertaken.
We have our cabinet departments and agencies here in the state standing by to provide whatever assistance might be necessary in the days and hours ahead. But right now, I'm absolutely confident as governor of the state that everything that can be done is being done, that the rescue efforts are in the hands of professionals, and that they are working jointly and collaboratively with the federal authorities who are here, in taking us to what we all hope will be a successful and happy outcome for all who are directly involved.
Having said that, I would like to now turn the time over to Senator Bennett, followed by Congressman Matheson and then we will turn it over to our friends from the Mining Safety and Health Administration . Senator.
SEN. ROBERT BENNETT (R), UTAH: Thank you. The briefing was very informational for someone who is a complete layman in these areas. And I echo what the governor has said. I am completely satisfied that the professionals are on the spot. They are in the right places, they are acting in an indefatigable way, indeed, some of them may be -- should be taking more sleep than they are.
But the determination to get to those six miners, is absolutely uniform, and absolutely solid. I'm here to demonstrate my concern, and express, through you, to the families, my great sympathy for the uncertainty that they are now enduring. The families, very appropriately, are in a sense of some seclusion, because while those of you in the media live in this kind of world, for them, it can be a very intimidating sort of world, and I do not want to intrude on them.
But they are being kept briefed on a regular basis, kept up-to- date of everything that is going on. I would echo what the governor has said, which I did not know before I came here, which is that seismic activity is still going on, and that is making it difficult for rescue efforts to go forward in a traditional manner, because that would endanger the lives of further miners, until the mine is stable -- the mine situation stabilizes, I guess, is the right word.
So our prayers are with the families. Our prayers are with the workers who are trying to get some kind of contact with these people. And like the governor, I think we must not lose hope. There is precedent for a -- an air shaft to go down into a mine, which is what they're working on now, make the contact with the area, receive no communication whatsoever, and then, at a future time, still find survivors.
So let us not jump to any conclusions just because the present situation is very difficult.
REP. JIM MATHESON (D), UTAH: Well, I associate myself with the comments of the governor and senator and I will try not to be repetitive. I've been here in mines in Castle Country. I know how miners who work here know there's a risk every day. My thoughts and prayers go to the family and to the whole community in Emery County and Carbon County.
This is something they feared, and it will never happen, but they know it's always a possibility. I can tell you that the professionals from MSHA are here. We'll put our trust in them to whatever can happen to make a good outcome. And I think technical questions or any questions about the state of the rescue ought to be answered by them. I'll turn it over to Richard.
RICHARD STICKLER, ASST. SECY., DEPT. OF LABOR: Richard Stickler. S-T-I-C-K-L-E-R. Assistant secretary, Department of Labor, in charge of federal Mine Health and Safety Administration.
First, I want to thank the entire Utah congressional delegation, Senator Bennett, Congressman Matheson, and also Governor Huntsman for their support and assistance in the activity that we're involved in here, has been very instrumental, and very helpful. Also, Senator Hatch is unable to be here. I would like to thank him for his support and help and assistance.
Federal Mine Health and Safety Administration has approximately 30 people on site. We brought in experts from all over the country, particularly from our technical support group out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We have roof control specialists, ventilation specialists. People that have experience and expertise dealing with the kind of problems that we're dealing with here.
We've also mobilized equipment. The Air Force has flown in some seismic equipment and gas monitoring equipment. So we are getting all of the technology and all of the man power and resources that we need here to work on this problem.
It's a very challenging problem, a difficult problem, and we certainly are concerned about the families. We have a policy that we meet with the families before we meet with the press, and brief them. MSHA has assigned family liaisons. We have three here on-site that are rotating shifts to be with the families round the clock.
And this evening we'll be having a briefing with them, and we're -- Kevin Strickland (ph) and I just arrived here on the site this afternoon around 1:00. And we're getting oriented and we'll be engaged here in assisting in this rescue operation.
Kevin is the administrator for all of the underground coal mines nationwide. And he and I have both been involved and engaged through the telephone back in Arlington the first day of this. And we're here on site to provide all of the support and assistance. We work as a team with the mine operator. The operator is -- has a lot of people and resources and equipment devoted to this operation.
We work together on developing the plans, and also in helping implement these plans. One of our primary responsibilities and concerns is the safety of the rescue team members themselves. As you heard mentioned earlier, there has been ongoing seismic activity.
In other words, bumps, movements of the mountain. And this presents a safety hazard to the rescue workers. We're putting in additional roof support and provisions to ensure their safety. Do you have any questions?
STICKLER: Well, some people refer to them as mountain bumps. But it's basically just movement of the strata above. The strata above puts weight on the blocks of coal which holds up all of the rock to the surface. When the blocks of coal has more force, or stress on it than can be withstood, then they yield, and they don't always yield gradually.
Sometimes they yield a little bit at a time. So you get a bump effect. That's referred to as a mountain bump. That's picked up as seismic activity.
STICKLER: Well, as this point, I can't say. But we will -- MSHA will answer that question. Once we get done with the rescue operation, we will start an accident investigation. We will bring a team of experts from across the nation. And I assure you that by the end of that investigation, we will have the answer on that. But there's a lot of things that we don't know at this time, that it would be inappropriate for me to speculate about that.
QUESTION: Mr. Stickler, do you know if there has been in this mine what they call retreat mining, we've heard various reports. The company says no, other people say yes. What do you know about that?
STICKLER: Well, this mine has had longwall mining, which is a mining process that removes 100 percent of the coal. And longwall face is perhaps 1,000 feet wide and 10,000 feet long. So when you remove that amount of coal, the stress, the load from the rock above gets transferred into the supporting blocks or barrier pillars or blocks of coal.
There have been some continuous miner retreat mining done at this operation. From what I've seen at the map, and I haven't had time to look at that in a lot of detail, but it appears to be a limited amount compared to the amount of longwall mining that was done. QUESTION: Is this unusual? Does this mine operate any differently from any other mine -- deep underground mine? Is there a difference? Can you explain that in layman's terms, maybe?
STICKLER: I don't know that it's any different. Certainly, there's difference in the amount of cover. Out here, you've got 1,500 feet of cover. Other parts of the country, you have 200 or 300 feet of cover. So the amount of load or stress on the coal seam that you're mining, certainly the mining height. Some seams are 30 inches high. And this is a relatively high seam that you can walk in.
So, yes, there are some differences, but on the other hand, they are very similar in many aspects.
QUESTION: Has any progress been made on actually getting that seismic equipment up to the site?
STICKLER: The seismic equipment that MSHA has? That was to arrive here today. And since I've been on the property, I have not got an update on that. When I finish this press conference, I will be meeting with MSHA folks to learn more about that.
QUESTION: What kind of progress has been made toward the men today? How far have rescuers gotten?
STICKLER: There has been a lot of work done on restoring the ventilation, replacing ventilation controls. Basically they are masonry walls that direct the air flow throughout the mine. Some of those ventilation controls had been destroyed. There's a lot of work ongoing to rebuild the ventilation controls.
Also, support, putting in support timber and steel beams along the walls -- the coal walls, so that if there are additional bumps that it would protect the miners working in that area.
QUESTION: But have they actually dug any closer to where the miners are?
STICKLER: Yes, they made some advancement with loading the material. I can't tell you, I'm not familiar with that.
QUESTION: Sir, Mr. Murray has made a lot of definitive statements, called some people out, come to his own conclusions. You clearly disagree with him on some points.
STICKLER: I'm not here to get into the political debate. I'm here to focus on doing everything we can to try to rescue these miners as soon as possible. And that's what we're going to be doing while I'm here.
QUESTION: Politics aside, there's a right and wrong. (OFF-MIKE)
STICKLER: Do you have other technical questions? QUESTION: When these explosions go off, will we be able to hear them from here? Are we going to be able to hear them when you're trying to get the sound out to these miners below?
STICKLER: Well, you're probably, what, three miles away, two miles away? I'll be honest with you, I don't know. We'll see.
QUESTION: Is that supposed to happen today?
STICKLER: I have not been updated on that.
QUESTION: Could you be more specific about the ongoing seismic activity going on today?
STICKLER: Well, it has just been sporadic movement of the strata above the coal seam, and its bumps, certainly minor movement compared to what happened when the initial event occurred. Eventually this area will stabilize, and the bumps will stop occurring. And at that time, it will be a lot safer environment for the rescue workers.
But there's no way that I can give you a time frame on how long that will take. I would be guessing, and there's no value in me doing that.
QUESTION: Workers are continuing to dig out some of the material that fell with that previous bump this morning despite these...
STICKLER: As we talk today, they are currently doing roof support work and reventilation, and getting that up -- back up to where it was.
QUESTION: What's your estimate of the time (OFF-MIKE)
STICKLER: I can't predict that.
STICKLER: There are so many things that we don't have control over. And for me to give you any type of date or time would not be in anybody's best interest.
QUESTION: Sir, we obviously can't get up to the mine. We can't see it for ourselves. And I assume that you all have been up there. I hate to ask you this question, but if you could sort of be our eyes for us, can you describe to us the activity that you're seeing up there? How many workers are around? What the equipment looks like? I don't know how far into the mine you yourself have been able to get...
STICKLER: Well, they have transported down a continuous mining machine to load the broken material, the coal. They brought in a feeder breaker to -- that transfers the broken material from the haulage units onto a belt conveyor. So essentially you've seen that equipment go by here because it has been brought on site. That equipment -- what the operator had is trapped in by the blockage in the tunnels.
So they don't have access to that equipment. They brought in equipment from other mines, adjoining mines, continuous mining machine, coal haulers, feeder breakers, various, probably 15 pieces of equipment.
The other thing that I wanted to touch on just briefly was that there is work continuing on drilling the boreholes from the surface. There's an eight and five-eighth-inch hole that will be drilled from the surface down to where we believe the miners are located, and also a two-and-half-inch hole from the surface. That is going to be starting very shortly.
And we would anticipate that we'll get that down as soon as we possibly can. That would provide a conduit that if we're able to make contact with miners, we could drop in communication, water, food, and give us a reference point. So that work is also a top priority.
QUESTION: So that work has not begun yet, the drilling (OFF- MIKE)?
STICKLER: Well, they've got the road built and they've the two drills at the site. And as I met -- they told me that the drilling was starting as we were meeting.
QUESTION: So you are saying now that there was retreat mining going on inside the mine. Was there retreat mining going in in the location where these six men are trapped at the time of the collapse or before?
STICKLER: I didn't say retreat mining was going on. I said it had been done. There are areas that the mine map shows that retreat mining has occurred.
QUESTION: Was it happening at the site of where these six men are?
STICKLER: I don't know that yet. I think we're going to have to get there and see that area before we can say exactly what was happening at that time.
QUESTION: On the drills, I'm sorry, was one these the drill that was dropped onto the mountain top by the helicopter and then other one is on the two holes. The eight-and-five-eighths, and two-and-a-half- inch?
STICKLER: Well, the one was brought in the with the helicopter, the second drill they had to build a road because it was a much bigger drill that will be drilling the eight-and-five-eighths-inch hole. And the road work took considerable time on the side of the mountain to get the big drill rig on the mountain. QUESTION: Why the two different sizes of holes? Why the eight- and-five-eighths and the two-and-a-half?
STICKLER: Well, you go with what you have many times. You know, that -- the smaller hole can certainly be used for communication. And the bigger hole would -- could be used for food or water and so on. So -- and you never know which hole is going to get there first. I know I was involved in the Quecreek operation in Pennsylvania and we had one drill drilling and we would break a bit or we would lose a bit, and -- so we decided to get the second drill.
We had two drills drilling at the same time. You don't know which one would penetrate first. So when you make the plans for this type of activity, you try to plan for what can go wrong, what kind of backup alternative plans you can have and that's part of what's being done here.
QUESTION: Sir, can you talk a bit about the safety record of this particular mine? There have been reports that it was cited over 300 times since January of '04 for safety violations, including 116 to 118 of which were considered significant. Do you view that as a significant problem? How does that compare to the other mines that you've taken a look at?
STICKLER: We view every safety violation as significant. We categorize those that are most likely to result in an injury as S&S, significant and substantial. But basically, the majority of mine safety laws we have on the books today exist because miners have been injured or killed. And yet, too many times we find serious accidents occurring, and fatalities because of a lack of compliance with these laws.
So it's very important, and we take it very serious, that mine operators comply with the Mine Health and Safety laws. We write probably 140 violations per year nationwide, and assess penalties for these, probably in the range of $40 million to $50 million in assessments for penalties of violations.
QUESTION: But in your judgment, how does it compare to the national average? The other mines that you have taken a look at, is this about average, is this worse, is this better?
STICKLER: I would have to look at that on some kind of a frequency. In other words, some mines may have 500, 600, 700 violations a year. Another mine may have 40 or 50. You might think, well, the mine with 40 or 50 has a better safety record, but the fact the mine that only has 40 or 50, perhaps MSHA was only at the site a few days.
We have large mines that we have two or three inspectors at the mine site almost every day of the year. So you would need to look at those statistics based on violations per inspector hour. And that's the way MSHA evaluates the compliance performance of mine operators. And I haven't seen any specific numbers on violations per inspector hour. The accident frequency rate, lost time accidents at this mine... (VEHICLE NOISE)
STICKLER: The accident frequency rate for lost time accidents at this mine was about 50 percent below the national average.
QUESTION: Would you repeat that? It's kind of noisy.
STICKLER: Do you want me to wait?
STICKLER: I think you asked about the question on the accident safety performance. And I do know that the accident frequency rate, that's the number of accidents per 200,000 man hours worked, is how MSHA measures mine operator's safety performance. For this mine, the last two or three years, it has been approximately 50 percent below the national average.
STICKLER: I can't hear.
QUESTION: I mean, it doesn't sound like the mine is structurally sound. Is it ever going to reopen do you think?
STICKLER: I wouldn't speculate about -- you know, that's an operator's decision. You would hope that the design of the mine would be such that, you know, they could continue operation, but I can't answer that.
QUESTION: Sir, once again, the drilling has begun on both much those two holes. And do you know how long that should take?
STICKLER: I wouldn't want to say. Because like I mentioned earlier, drill rigs break down, bits break, you lose the bit down in the hole. And...
QUESTION: It's not a best-case scenario?
STICKLER: There's nothing that I think anybody would gain by me saying it's going to be done by a certain time.
QUESTION: You're say they're drilling two holes basically just because they can drill two holes? I mean, there's no reason for two holes different sizes? They're just doing it apparently, right?
STICKLER: It was what was available. It was the fastest thing that could be done. The smaller hole was a drill rig that could be brought in by helicopter. So that seemed to be faster than waiting until you build a road. But you don't know. QUESTION: The drilling from both of those drill rigs has begun, despite the instability up there?
STICKLER: Well, they're drilling from the surface.
QUESTION: Mr. Stickler, how important, if at all, has the reports of the four men who got out been? How important have those been to your investigation into figuring out what happened?
STICKLER: Well, I'm sure that was important information that helped the rescue operators, the mine operator, the rescue teams. Anything you learn from people coming out would be beneficial.
QUESTION: Could you elaborate on what they said?
STICKLER: No, I cannot.
QUESTION: How close were they to the six that were trapped (OFF- MIKE)?
STICKLER: I don't know the answer to that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Thank you all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you all very much.
MALVEAUX: And we are just wrapping up a press conference, the latest briefing there on the rescue efforts involving the Utah mine collapse. Still six miners underground. And we heard from federal officials who say that it is really slow going at this point.
Still those -- the drilling has just begun, but they're talking about an unstable environment for the rescue workers themselves. So obviously family members and many people anxiously awaiting to see if they can get to those six miners in time. Of course, it is a tragic and very emotional situation. And of course, our own Lou Dobbs picking up this story as well.
Lou, what do you have?
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