It was like the families of the miners missing in the Performance Coal Mine were in limbo. High levels of toxic fumes forced rescue crews to retreat early Thursday morning, destined to wait nearby until drillers boring four foot in diameter holes in the earth broke through into the shaft where they believed the missing four men possibly were hiding in rescue shelters.
Their wait lasted until the early hours of Thursday morning when their hopes were dashed yet again. A press conference at Marsh Fork School early this morning offered some news, but not what the families would have liked to have heard.
"The rescue teams have been pulled out because they detected levels of methane that were too high to risk their safety," Gov. Joe Manchin said. Us Mine Safety and Health Administration inspector Kevin Stricklin, who has been there since the beginning of the accident, said the team also experienced fire and smoke in the mine, indicating a good possibility of fire inside the shaft. Fire could easily cause another explosion.
He said the teams were able to move faster this last time due to the fact that when they were recalled on Thursday, they left their rescue gear behind. When they returned today, the men were able to ride ATVs into the shaft, making their trip in much quicker.
The Governor also disclosed that the team had reached one of the two rescue chambers, and to their dismay, no one was inside. "It is our hope they all made it to the second chamber."
The teams are facing another deadline. "We made a promise to the families that the rescue teams would make it into the mine within 96 hours," Manchin told reporters. Friday afternoon at 3:00 pm marks the 96-hour mark.
Madison area residents who wish to offer their support to the families are invited to attend a memorial service this evening. A candlelight service will be held tonight(Friday) at 7:00 on the front steps of the Boone County Courthouse.
The West Virginia Council of Churches is stepping in to help the families through establishment of a fund for them. They have organized the Montcoal Mining Disaster Fund, and is now accepting donations of money to be distributed between the families of the lost miners. For more information, check the website at www.wvcc.org .