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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
West Virginia Miners Trapped Underground
Aired January 2, 2006 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thanks very much. A dramatic scene, it is. If you are just tuning in, good evening again. What is going on all around us tonight is careful and methodical, but it is a race all the same. A race against time and the elements. Deep inside the earth.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A coal mine explodes in West Virginia. Thirteen miners trapped hundreds of feet underground. Rescue workers desperately search for survivors while family members stand by holding out hope.
Tender, dry conditions and whipping winds continue to fan fires in Texas, Oklahoma and now New Mexico. Hundreds of thousands of acres charred. Hundreds of homes burned to the ground. Tonight, why firefighters can't control the blazes, and why the worst may be yet to come.
And witness this dramatic fight for life. After a plane plunges into the murky near freezing waters of New York's Hudson River, see what happened in just 15 minutes that meant the difference between life and death.
Tonight live from Upshur County, West Virginia, here's Anderson Cooper.
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COOPER: Good evening, again. If you are joining us for the first time tonight, we are in central West Virginia in Upshur County about 90 miles from Charleston, a few hours south of Pittsburgh, at the entrance to the Sago Mine.
Right now rescuers are trying to get to 13 miners trapped by an explosion this morning or worse, whatever the case. The miners haven't been heard from since, and those same conditions that may have caused the explosion are also making operations tonight especially delicate and risky.
In other words, this is not a frantic search. It is a careful one. When West Virginia's Governor Joe Manchin heard about the explosion at the Sago Mine, he was in Atlanta where the University of West Virginia is playing in the Sugar Bowl. He's returned to West Virginia and just met with the families of the trapped miners.
Governor Manchin joins us now.
Governor thanks for being with us. I'm sorry it is under these circumstances. What is the latest information that you have?
GOV. JOE MANCHIN, WEST VIRGINIA: Anderson, we have spoken to the families, and in West Virginia, we still believe in miracles, and we thank all the people in America and around the world of all the prayers, they're giving to us.
And, we have heard basically our rescue teams are leapfrogging, if you will. They're moving very rapidly under the conditions. The last I heard we are about three to 4,000 feet in. We have good air right now. So that's a good sign.
And as you know, I was born and raised in Farmington in the horrible explosion in 1968 where we lost 78 miners. My uncle was one of the people that lost their lives and my friends who went to school with and played ball with. So with that we waited for many days before we were even to try or attempt a rescue, and we never could.
So the encouraging thing with us tonight is that we are able to get teams in fairly quickly. And hopefully, that we'll have the best of results and we're very hopeful for that.
COOPER: The last word we had was that 9:00 Eastern time, they were going to start drilling, getting a drill in there to try to get some air to test the air quality and also possibly get communication equipment in there. Has the drilling begun?
MANCHIN: The drilling has begun. They are working on the drilling now. And we have other drill rigs coming in. As a matter of fact, we have the same drill rig that rescued the miners in Pennsylvania. And that's a West Virginia rig. So we have the best from all over the country and the best right here in West Virginia.
Governor Rendell has called offering help. Governor Blagojevich has called. We have all the different mining communities coming together. In West Virginia, we are a family, and the families have gathered right now in the church. We have families at the churches packed right now with families and clergy.
And I have spoken to them. And I have told them that I haven't given up. And I hope they haven't. And they haven't. I had a young boy come up to me afterwards, and they wanted me to say something to him because he had worked so hard all day long helping people. And we found out that his father is one of the men inside the mine. And he said, my daddy's OK. So he has hope, too.
COOPER: I mean, you know what it is like to be one of those families, as you said you lost your uncle. You lost a bunch of your friends who you went to high school with, played ball with. I mean, what is that wait like? I mean, it's got to be the worst thing in the world.
MANCHIN: It is unbelievable. Every minute is like a day. Every hour is like a year. It's just, I can't explain it. I mean, and then you're hoping on every thread, every rumor. Anything you hear, you're thinking maybe that good news is that next news you will hear.
So I wanted to make sure that our team is there with them. We have people there. We're giving them accurate information. The worst thing the can do is get some inaccurate information that gives them the wrong or wrong hope, if you will.
But also, knowing that we are progressing. That we have the best there is to offer. And they have the most experienced miners. Those miners that are down in that mine are experienced, and if anybody can survive, they can. And, they have the apparatuses.
I spoke to of the miners that came out of the mine. He was one of the fortunate ones. He said, Joe, I felt the explosion. I felt the heat. He says, but then all the dust hit me and everything. So his eyes were in pretty bad shape, as you can imagine. But he said I was able to get my breathing apparatus on, and I was able to find good air.
So with that, that gives me hope, and he's hoping for his friends the same will happen to them.
COOPER: I know, as I drove in here and drove by all these homes and you could see families gathered around the television, watching the news, looking for any piece of information.
Our pledge over the next two hours is not to be traffic and rumor. We're not going down the road of speculation. We're only looking for facts. Because God knows, there are a lot of people who have a personal involvement watching right now. We don't want to give them any misleading information.
The drill that's being sent down there, what is the main purpose of that drill? Is it for communication or is it to test the air quality?
MANCHIN: There's a little bit of everything going on. But basically, the air quality, the communications, and also, we're using global positioning systems, GPS, to make sure we're more accurate on where the drilling will begin.
And the owners of the mine and all the people and inspectors on the federal, inspectors from the federal side, the inspectors from the state side, they pretty much know that if they were able to find some safety, where it might be, and hopefully we can get in those corridors to find out if the help can be done, and we're just doing everything possible.
COOPER: Governor, I know you have to go, but final question. I mean, for those who don't understand about the air quality, the air safety, what is the main concern? You talk about the testing for the air quality. What is the point of that?
MANCHIN: We know there was an ignition. When there's an ignition there's a cause of the explosion. With fire, carbon monoxide levels go up very high so we couldn't enter the mine for quite sometime. And they kept fluctuated, and this afternoon they started fluctuating, which gave us some hope.
And, as you know, the air did get better. That means the fire had to subside to where it's safe enough for them to get in there. But with the carbon monoxide levels up high, we're not going to allow nor are they allowed to go in as far as any the rescue squads or rescue teams because we don't want to put them in danger.
So we feel good about that, and they're moving as rapidly. The air quality, that I am understanding, the last information I received, that it was good enough up to where the water, they found the water.
And I want to say this about water. It's not the same situation in Pennsylvania where you had an encroachment or break that caused the flooding. This is natural water in most mines and when the power went out, the pumps seized to work so the waters start to build up.
They have pumps in there. They are pumping it, pumping the water out. And that's a normal procedure. So there's nothing unordinary about that. And they had good air. I mean, they could breathe without the apparatuses up to that point. That's about 3,000 feet in. So they are past that now and we're just hoping that you're going to have good news tonight that we are going to have good news.
COOPER: Well, we are staying with the story all evening long. Governor Machine, we appreciate you taking the time to join us. Thank you very much.
MANCHIN: Thank you.
COOPER: All right. Thank you very much.
We are going to have several reports tonight on this mine rescue starting with CNN's Brian Todd.
I should just let you know though. Those miners do carry with them breathing apparatus. We have some -- a graphic of what it looks like. Some pictures of what it looks like. It's almost kind of like a lunch box, if you will. There you can see a person putting on the apparatus. They have about an hour of oxygen with them that they can breathe from once they put on those devices.
And I was talking to the governor earlier. And he was saying that the people who heard the explosions in the mine and were able to get out, they were able to put on those breathing devices and those miners were hoping that the miners further down inside the mine were also able to.
Brian Todd was one of the first reporters here on the scene. He joins us also from the mine tonight.
Brian, what's the latest information that you have?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the latest we have is that there are two rescue teams inside the mine right now. They have dug several thousand feet down. They have not established contact with the miners as of now, but they are still working. They're--as of about last hour, we're told that they started to drill into the mine. How many holes, we are not sure. They are trying to establish what the quality of air is inside the mine. And also, possibly trying to pump some good air into the mine. And also, establish communications.
But right now they have not been able to establish any communication with the 13 miners that are trapped. We are also talking to family members. I talked to a relative of one of the miners, who said that a couple of weeks ago they had to actually stop the drilling process because of the presence of gas. Too much gas in the mine.
Methane gas has been a real issue here because apparently that's what took the rescue teams so long to get in there in the first place. The accident happened at about 6:30 a.m., the first rescue teams, we're told, didn't go into until 5:30 p.m.. That's about 11 hours.
We're told that the build-up of methane gas was one of the reasons why. They had to clear some of that out. There is also the presence of some other gases in the mine. And that it -- they had to clear all of that out and that's what took the rescue teams so long to get in.
But one relative of one of the trapped miners told me that a couple of weeks ago they had to stop the drilling operation because of gas. He was complaining about the safety.
We're also told that federal inspectors cited this company in an exhaustive review that ended just last month for 40 some safety violations according to federal guidelines. So there are some issues here that we are trying to get some information on, and we hope to do that soon--Anderson.
COOPER: But at this point, I mean, how much--the fact this mine was idle over the weekend, and that this was really the first shift going into the mine, there's speculation--and again it is all speculation at this point, but it is very possible that might have had something to do with it.
TODD: It's quite possible. And, again, there are also some concerns about the experience of this crew that went in. We're told that one of the miners, at least one of them had a lot of experience, but it's unclear what the experience is of the other 12.
I did speak to the brother of one of the miners of the fire boss, the fire boss, his name is Terry Helms, he's been a miner for more than 20 years. He's got a lot of experience. He was in there with that first crew.
You're right, the mine was idle over the weekend. We don't know what the conditions were when they first went in. We are told that one -- the team that's now trapped went in first, and a second team was following right behind it. That they heard an explosion. They went in to see what was happening. They could only get so far and then they came back out and reported this. The governor has also said that he spoke to one of the miners that got out who actually saw the fire ball and was able to get out and got some encouraging news, the governor did, from this one miner who said that he was able to get some good oxygen in there.
So some positive signs, but again, you're right, the conditions under which this happened, with the mine being idle over the weekend, the crew going in this morning very early, and the experience of the crew is also of some concern right now. So a lot of information we still have to get, Anderson.
COOPER: And the families are waiting about a mile -- just to set the scene of where we are, we are at the mine right now. This is a part of the mine. This is not the entrance to the mine. You probably can't even see, all you can see are probably some sparkling lights. Those are lights on some of the mine equipment where the coal is actually processed. It's put onto conveyor belts, it's dumped off into trucks.
The actual entrance to the mine where all of this drama is playing out is further up this road this way. Further down the road this way is where families have gathered in a church. Families, close relatives, they are there with counselors and priests, members of the clergy as well as police officers. I drove by there a little bit earlier, I saw a woman huddled under a blanket, under a tent, and they have been waiting there all day long.
Brian, we'll talk with you a little bit later on. The drilling has begun as the governor told us at the top of this hour. He confirming for us that the drilling has begun. It is underway and that is certainly good news. But again, right now, the headline is we do not know whether these miners are alive or not. There has been no communication. This incident occurred at 7:55 a.m. or thereabouts. There has been no communication since that time.
And one of the purposes of drilling through, in addition to checking the air quality, is the hope that perhaps there will be some communication. You will remember back with the Quecreek mine, when they drilled down, six-inch drill that saved the miners lives, because they brought in fresh air. Those miners actually started tapping on that drill as soon as they saw it. It actually came in right where they were waiting in very high water. They started tapping on it. And that's how the world knew those miners were alive.
They are hoping when this drill reaches the miners that we get some word on the condition of these 13 miners. Now we've been hearing all night that lightning may have touched off the mine explosion. There are a lot of theories going on. There was a lot of lightning here, even as we were driving in. There was certainly no shortage of lightning in the area today. With us now in the Weather Center in Atlanta, CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras. Jacqui, this morning, what did it look like here?
JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, there was quite a bit of lightning across the region, Anderson. This is a lightning strike, cloud to ground lightning strike. And we've put the time clock on here so you can track it along with us.
Over a two-hour period, from about a quarter to 6:00 in the morning until 8:00. There you can see the site of the explosion and Charleston, just down there to the south and the west. You can see the storms push through the regions. There were multiple strikes all over the area.
Also, keep in mind that lightning can strike about 10 miles away from the parent cell. What happens when lightning hits the ground or something else? Well, various things. First of all, it heats up the air around it, 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Yes, 50,000. That's 10 times hotter than the surface of the sun.
Now that energy can be absorbed, all that heat can be absorbed and expanding out, depending on the conductivity of the product. It can start a burn area or a fire or yes, lightning can cause an explosion, depending what it strikes.
So meteorologically, this is certainly a possibility. Showers and thunderstorms all over the place throughout the area in the early morning hours. Now we are concerned, though, as those rescue efforts continue to take place here tonight, Anderson, that more showers and thunderstorms are going to be pushing in across the region. So you guys might need to be taking cover right now.
There you can see a severe thunderstorm watch just expired for the Charleston area. The strongest of storms, we think, will stay off down to the south, but I would say in the next hour and a half to two hours, more wet weather, showers and thunderstorms will be moving through. Rain expected on and off throughout the day tomorrow and by Wednesday, rain will be changing over to some snow. Anderson?
COOPER: Well, that is the last thing these rescuers need is a thundershowers and more rain here. We got a little bit earlier and we drove through a big thunderstorm on the way here. Jacqui Jeras, appreciate that. Thank you.
The weather is also causing problems in the plains, Oklahoma and Texas, where little rain and high winds are fueling wild fires including a fast-moving one near the state's border which hat wiped out most of a community. Look at those images. Unbelievable. We'll tell you about one family's fast escape.
Also ahead tonight on 360, we'll head to the West Coast, where they're facing the opposite problem, too much rain. We've got the latest on all the flooding there.
And in New York, a plane crash into the Hudson River and a daring rescue, all caught on tape. Across America and around the globe, you're watching 360.
COOPER: We continue to follow the story of 13 miners trapped here in West Virginia. And any second that there are any updates, we will bring them to you. But first, we want to tell you about some other happenings throughout the country and the world tonight.
Today in Oklahoma and Texas, winds slowed down enough to allow tanker planes and helicopters get to some of the wildfires that have scorched hundreds of thousands of acres there. But weather forecasters say the slight relief is only temporary. Some of the fires have been getting stronger, not weaker -- stronger, including one by the small town of Ringgold, Texas, near the Oklahoma state line. In an instant, that fire nearly wiped out an entire community. Here's CNN's Jonathan Fried.
JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 2006 did not start out well for the Grissom family.
CAROLYN GRISSOM, LOST HOME IN FIRE: I fixed a big meal and we were all eating -- going to eat over here and everything. And kids said, gosh, it is clouding up. Are we supposed to get rain?
FREED: It wasn't rain. Within moments, smoke appeared on the horizon. And she knew that everyone needed to leave.
C. GRISSOM: We started running back and forth and getting important papers, getting computers, getting what we could get, clothes and everything.
FREED: The fire, 17 miles long and in some spots, four-miles wide, had come off the plains so quickly that even the county officials only had 10 minutes warning. Dozens of residents only learned of the fire when they saw it on the horizon. Within moments, she says flames snarled above their heads and licked at her granddaughter's legs as she climbed into the family trailer.
C. GRISSOM: The fire was on both sides of the road. We could not see but one stripe in front of us. And I said, I'm going, we're going to keep going. I said, if it burns the tires off, I'm going to keep rolling.
FREED: As the Grissoms fled for their lives, nearly 50 fire departments fought the flames. The town of Nocona, 13 miles to the east, was spared because of the efforts. But the 200 residents of Ringgold were not. Twenty-seven homes were destroyed by the fire. Eighty percent of the town. This is Ringgold, one day later.
GOV. RICK PERRY, (TX): Good news is there's no loss of life here but, you know, the folks right here behind us lost everything.
FREED: Behind Governor Perry, the Grissoms' home with a crisp, blue sky overhead, Carolyn, Melvin and relatives pick through a landscape that is stripped of life and color. Smoke still rises from the ashes and ash floats through the air like snow.
They search and find a piece of Grandmother's china, a teapot, given to Melvin and Carolyn for their wedding. A handful of keepsakes. Reality starts to set in.
C. GRISSOM: Yes. That's all that's left.
FREED: The chimney is the only thing still standing.
All that pile up there on the top of the brick is all our grandchildren's pictures.
FREED: Family photos are gone but the Grissoms are all okay.
C. GRISSOM: We got our lives, that's the main thing. We got the kids out. We are all together. That's all that matters.
FREED: Caroline and Melvin believe their family is fortunate. They will rebuild. And Ringgold is still home.
MELVIN GRISSOM, LOST HOME IN FIRE: It's -- we got our family and good neighbors. No reason to leave.
FREED: Jonathan Freed, CNN.
COOPER: One family's heartache, so many families are suffering. Today, Oklahoma's emergency management director warned that conditions there are going to get worse tomorrow with winds expected to reach 40 miles per hour and there is no rain in the forecast.
Oklahoma City has just seen a quarter inch since the end of October and in that time, fired scorched more than 300,000 acres statewide, destroyed more than 220 homes and businesses.
Joining me now from Oklahoma City is the governor, Brad Henry. Governor, appreciate you being with us. I'm sorry it is under these conditions.
Have you ever seen anything this bad in your state?
GOV. BRAD HENRY, OKLAHOMA: Well, I don't think so. You know, we have had a number of bad fire years. This it is worst anyone can remember.
COOPER: You toured a fire damaged areas in Oklahoma city. How are people doing? What did you see today?
HENRY: Well, today we toured a number of damaged areas here in Oklahoma City. Saturday we had tours over the rest of the areas of the state that have been scorched by fires. You can see some of the damage here behind me.
We consoled a number of family members and generally consulted with them and tried to help them get the assistance they need. You know, our hearts go out to all of the Oklahomans impacted by the fires and Anderson, I want to say our hearts go out to those that are trapped in the mine in West Virginia and their families, as well as the Californians who are enduring the floods.
COOPER: It seems like nature's conspiring against a lot of people tonight. How many fires -- I mean, do you know how many fires are currently going right now in Oklahoma?
HENRY: Currently, we have somewhere in the neighborhood of about 30 fires. New ones seem to pop up all the time. We had just in Oklahoma county, one county, surrounding the largest metropolitan area yesterday, 35 fires reported.
It's pretty bad. We have over 360,000 acres scorched by fires. Lost about 220 homes. Fortunately, we have only had a couple of fatalities since the fires really began in mid-November.
The amazing thing to me is firefighters have done just a fabulous job. You know, as you do a tour and you see just literally thousands and thousands of scorched areas, home after home after home that was spared fire damage.
The fires burned up to the porches and the firefighters were able to protect the homes. So although we have lost a scant number of homes firefighters have done a great job and save add lot, too. We appreciate the job they've done.
COOPER: They're working no doubt around the clock for days now. They have to be exhausted and I guess no end in sight.
HENRY: Especially in the rural areas where we have smaller fire departments and volunteer fire departments. They don't have big shifts or big crews where they can change shifts so it's been very taxing. Many of these firefighters out there in particular in the rural areas have been working day and night for ten days now. And it's been very taxing.
We have had help from the neighbors, we have had teams come in from Alabama and Tennessee, fire fighting teams from Alabama and Tennessee and North Carolina. We expect more teams from Florida tomorrow. So we're very appreciative for that help. We have teams from the federal government come in. We have got a lot of help and I tell you, Oklahomans are a resilient, strong people. We faced adversity before and we'll overcome this time.
COOPER: Governor, our thoughts and prayers with you and the people in your state. Thank you very much for being with us. Erica Hill joins us with the other stories we're follow tonight. Good evening.
ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening to you. As rescue teaming work into the night in West Virginia, a search across the globe in Germany where people were trapped at a skating rink. As many as 11 people were killed when the roof caved in under heavy snow. Rescue dogs and machines have been brought in to go through the rubble. We know of at least 30 other people injured.
In long beach, California deadly accident. A woman was killed when a SUV veered off a rain-slicked road and crashed into a flood controlled channel. There were conflicting reports of as many three people in the SUV. A fire spokesman says no one else was found in the water. Fort Lauderdale, Florida, new details of how a teen sneaked off to Baghdad. He is back in Florida with the mother says the father helped him get a visa to Iraq from Beirut. The father said he was leaving Iraq himself and the father says the son came so far by himself he had to help him.
And Dulles, Virginia, a low fare airliner shutting down. Independence Air will stop service on Thursday due to bankruptcy. The parent company says ticket refunds should be available. That's pending approval from bankruptcy court. Independence Air has over 200 daily departures to 37 destinations. Anderson?
COOPER: Thanks very much. We're also following the dangerous weather out west. Parts of California are in a state of emergency. We'll have that story.
Also tonight, the latest on 13 miners trapped under ground. It is a fast-developing story. We are here covering the latest on the efforts on the latest to rescue them. We are expecting a news conference any moment. We'll have new information in a matter of moments. Stay with "360."
COOPER: We are awaiting a news conference with mine officials here in West Virginia. We are going to bring it to you live. Here's what we know right now. Mine officials have begun drilling a hole in the ground above the estimated location of the 13 trapped miners and two teams in the darkened coal mine trying to reach the miners. For the latest on the effort, joining me is Jim Spears, Secretary of Military Affairs and Public Safety here in West Virginia.
Jim, what do you know? What is the latest?
JIM SPEARS, WEST VIRGINIA SECRETARY FOR MILITARY AFFAIRS FOR PUBLIC SAFETY: Well, the latest is that we have got some search teams that are -- have already started down into the mine shaft.
I think that has been reported already. What is significant is that they are able to make some fairly good progress, as they have advanced probably about 4,000 feet now. They're doing the leapfrog effect, where they send one team ahead, and then the other goes ahead of them.
What slows down the rescue efforts, though, is the fact that they have to look in all the side -- the side portals, too, as well as constantly monitoring the air quality, as well as remaining in communications back with -- at the control center.
COOPER: And -- and that is a big question mark, the air quality where these miners are believed to be.
COOPER: What -- what do you need to know about that air? SPEARS: Well, what we need to know is exactly what the levels are of the various gases, and to make sure that, one, it's safe to enter, and, two, to see if there's sufficient oxygen for them to breathe.
So, we -- we need to get a hole down there to -- to test the atmospherics and, also, to possibly sink some communications equipment.
COOPER: So, it is a twin effort, really. It's this leapfrog of these two rescue teams. But it's also drilling this hole. And -- and the main purpose of that is to test the air, but it's also, as you said, to drop some communications equipment to try to see if these miners are alive, right?
SPEARS: Exactly. Exactly.
COOPER: What is the -- early this morning, a team of miners did go in, and they got pretty far in. How far did they go?
SPEARS: They got about 8,000 -- about 8,000 feet into the -- into the shaft.
COOPER: And what did they see?
SPEARS: Well, that's just it.
When they go there, they saw that there was a certain amount of blockage. And, also, the air quality was degrading rapidly. So, they then came back on their own.
COOPER: And do you know the precise location of where these miners are?
SPEARS: We don't know the exact location. However, we have a good idea of where they are.
There's a -- a turn to the left in the shaft just past the point where the second team felt the explosion. It's that turn to the left where we believe that it -- the trapped miners would be located.
COOPER: And how far deep is -- is that?
SPEARS: Well, it's -- as you know, it is about 250, 260 feet deep. However, then, it's about another 12,000, 13,000 feet into that shaft to that point.
COOPER: So, they are really -- at the end -- I mean, this mine is about 10,000 feet deep, the -- you know, the -- the length of it. So, they're pretty much at the end of this mine?
SPEARS: Pretty much at the end of that mine, exactly.
COOPER: Jim Spears, we appreciate you joining us. I know it's a busy night. We will check in with you again for the latest information. Thank you very much, Jim. SPEARS: Thank you.
COOPER: We are awaiting a news conference at this moment on the desperate struggle here in West Virginia to reach 13 miners trapped below the surface after an explosion. They are about two -- they are about 270 feet or so below the surface of the ground.
The clock is ticking, however, rescuers inching their way in. They are about 3,000 to 4,000 feet in at this point. The miners are believed to be about 10,000, 11,000 feet in.
Also ahead tonight, a small plane literally disappears into the Hudson River off New York. The dramatic rescue, all of it was caught on tape. Close calls do not get much closer than this. We will show you the tape.
Across America and around the world, this is 360.
COOPER: And welcome back.
We are live in Upshur County, West Virginia. Coming up, we expect a news conference from the management company ICG, the company which owns this mine, where 13 miners are trapped about 270 feet below the ground, but about 10,000 feet or so deep inside this mine. They're not sure of the exact location of the miners.
And that is just one of the many problems facing rescuers right now. We are bringing you this situation live as it happens. Let's recap the latest of what we know, what is happening at this moment.
Here at the Sago mine, the fate of 13 miners, it remains unknown. They're trapped in a shaft, as I said, about two miles from the entrance of the mine and about 260 or 270 feet below the surface of -- of the ground. There has been no contact with them since about 6:30 a.m. this morning. The explosion occurred, I believe, some around 7:55 a.m. The explosion left a wall of debris, blocking the mine at about 9,000 feet or so in.
Rescuers couldn't get any further than that this morning. Again, we are going to have more on the developing situation as it happens -- more on that in a moment.
Also, elsewhere in America, wildfires in Texas and Oklahoma continue tonight, talking about 280 homes have been wiped out in Texas in just this week. In Oklahoma, at least 220 homes and businesses have been destroyed since the end of October. That state's governor, Brad Henry, who we just had on this program, wants President Bush to declare a federal emergency, allowing more resources to help join the fight.
And, at this hour, in California, as if the weather wasn't bad enough, seven counties hit by some of the worst flooding in decades are under a state of emergency, from the north, where a failed levee has put about 40 homes at risk, to the south, where mudslides are feared. The state is under serious duress. Rains are forecast to ease tomorrow, however, in Northern California -- a bit of good new there.
Back here in West Virginia, there is still hope that the 13 trapped miners are alive. No one will give up until they know otherwise. There has been no communication from those 13 miners. They are drilling a hole 270 feet down into what they believe is the area where the miners remain trapped. They hope that that hole, in addition to testing the quality of the air to see whether the air is -- is safe for -- for the rescuers to go into that area, they are also trying to drop some communication equipment down inside there.
During the Quecreek mine incident back in July of 2002, when they drilled a hole, which saved the lives of those miners, bringing in fresh air, bringing in warmer air, they also -- the miners actually just started tapping on that -- on that drill to let the world know that they were alive.
Nine miners were found alive, after being trapped underground for more than 77 hours back in Quecreek mine.
I'm joined now on the live from Gray, Pennsylvania, by one of the men who was pulled from the Quecreek mine, Ron Hileman.
Ron, appreciate you being with us.
This has got to bring back some terrible memories for you.
RONALD HILEMAN, SURVIVED MINING ACCIDENT: Yes, it sure does. It brings back a lot of bad memories, but everything turned out good for us, and I'm hoping everything turns out good down there, too.
COOPER: For you, the situation was different. It was water, fast-moving water, fast-rising water. That is not a problem for these miners, we are told.
What is it like being in that mine for 77 hours?
HILEMAN: It was not good. Just being trapped in there and nowhere to go, not knowing what's going on out on the surface, I mean, it was -- it was a bad ordeal, but everything turned out great.
COOPER: And -- and did you talk to one another? I mean, what was the -- the immediate situation like? What were the conditions like?
HILEMAN: Well, it was damp, cold, dark.
I mean, we communicated between each other, tried to keep each other's spirits up. You know, you start feeling helplessness down there, you know, hoping that somebody -- that they soon get down to you, you know, which they did. But it takes time. It's a slow process.
COOPER: And I'm guessing, hour after hour, I mean, it just gets worse and worse. These miners have been trapped down here for 16 hours or so. What was the worst point for you when you -- when you were trapped in a mine?
HILEMAN: Well, after the hours, days, it's starts getting -- you know, you start giving up hope. But you -- you can't do it. You -- you just got to keep hope. That's the only thing you have.
COOPER: And, you know, this is a small community here, and -- and a lot of people watching TV in this community, a lot of people waiting for information. What is your message to those families out there, to the friends of the people who are trapped? What is your message to them, Ron?
HILEMAN: Keep praying and keep hoping. That's all you have, is hope. Just keep hoping that the -- they're still alive.
COOPER: Well, it worked out for you. And let's pray and hope that it works out for these 13 miners trapped.
Ron Hileman, appreciate you joining us tonight. Thank you.
Ron was trapped in the Quecreek mine back in July of 2002.
My colleague Joe Johns is also -- and we are anticipating, as I said before, a press conference from the management company of this mine. And we are going to bring you that live as soon as we get it with the latest information.
My colleague Joe Johns is also working the story here in West Virginia. He's been talking to people who have good reason to know the terrors the -- the job of coal mining can hold. These people are as close as you can get to those who go underground themselves, the ones who wait anxiously for them at home.
Joe, a horrific wait for them tonight.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, Anderson. That's very true.
Just down the road from here, the families are huddled inside and outside a church, very near, of course, to this mine. There are sons; there are mothers; there are daughters, including a young woman I spoke to named Amber Helms (ph), whose 50-year-old father is in the mine. She is still very much holding out hope that her father will walk out of that mine alive.
Let's listen to what she said earlier tonight, when I spoke to her.
JOHNS: ... dealing with this thing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I -- I have a very strong bond with my dad.
And if something was terribly wrong, I would feel it. And I feel that he is OK. I know that he is a very strong person. And I -- I'm just trying to keep so much confidence that he's going to be OK. I don't want to -- I don't want to take a chance of being negative. I'm just praying. And I just -- I know he is OK. I just know.
JOHNS: Anderson, I heard you talking just a little ago while about the Quecreek mining accident in 2002. Of course, that is one of the reasons these people hold out hope. They do realize that it's not always a death sentence anymore, as it was 20 or 30 years ago.
There's still a possibility that these men who are trapped in that mine will, in fact, walk out alive -- Anderson.
COOPER: And, I mean, now, in fact, mine safety has improved significantly over the last couple of years, as you well know, Joe.
And, I mean, last year, 2005, had the least amount of fatalities of any year in American history for coal mines. The safety record is getting better. The prevention is getting better. And these miners carry with them their own supply of oxygen, which lasts about an hour or two, depending on -- on the condition of it.
They're also told to get a pocket -- I'm told this press conference has started, management company.
Let's listen to what they have to say.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
ROGER NICHOLSON, GENERAL COUNSEL, INTERNATIONAL COAL GROUP: With me is Gene Kitts, who is the senior vice president of mining services of International Coal Group.
We're here to, I guess, update you with the latest information that we have. As we indicated before, two mine rescue teams are in the mine. The most in-by team, which means the one that has progressed the furthest, is -- at the latest update we got, is 4,800 feet into the mine.
Their testing at that time indicates safe levels of oxygen, methane and carbon monoxide. And they have encountered no problems up to that point. We have enough mine rescue personnel on site to make 14 five-man teams. We have two to three additional teams on standby.
Under the regulations, we have to change out. We are going to change out those teams as they work, so that it -- so that no time is lost. The first team should be changed out at about midnight. The rumor that mine rescue personnel had to be pulled out of the mine is incorrect. We have encountered no problems thus far and we do not anticipate any delay in change-out.
With respect to the drilling, that has not progressed as well as we had hoped. We had some surveying problems, but we believe that the drill should be into the ground -- it was supposed to be at 10:30, was the updated projection. And we believe that that has probably occurred. We have not heard any update on that. The drill crews and the dozer arrived on the site at 5:00 p.m. today.
There have been several questions about what the miners carry while they are under ground working. And we have here a -- a unit.
And Johnny Stemple (ph) is going to give a demonstration of what a miner would do underground if he has to use this apparatus.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He would have this on his belt. Remove it from the belt. Put it on the mine floor. Take the covers off.
Expose the unit. There's a set of goggles in here. Put the unit over their head. Remove the mouthpiece plug, insert the mouthpiece. Put the nose clips on. Activate the oxygen. You're breathing oxygen. There's a waist strap on the bottom. It's elastic. It goes around your waist, clip, adjustment strap to hold it in place.
NICHOLSON: Thank you, Johnny.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just that simple. Every man carries that underground.
NICHOLSON: And I guess -- I guess, in short, we would close the statement by saying that we are -- our guys are making as good of progress as we expected. And we can answer some questions now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Up to 60 minutes, a 60-minute unit.
QUESTION: That's pure oxygen, isn't it? Anybody know?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know.
QUESTION: I know you have been talking about this all day, but can one of you tell us right now, what is the status of your 13 miners?
NICHOLSON: We are -- we are seeking to rescue them. We have had not had any contact with them since the incident this morning.
QUESTION: Roger, you said that the crews have gotten about 4,800 feet in. Can you tell us the condition of the mine that far in? Have we seen any roof falls, any other problems? What are they dealing with?
NICHOLSON: My understanding is that the condition of the mine through the 4800-foot mark is good.
QUESTION: Can you tell us, Mr. Nicholson, about the proxemics to extra ventilation or air pockets that could actually help sustain these miners?
GENE KITTS, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL COAL GROUP: This is a different situation than what many are recalling.
This is not a flooding situation. This is a situation where, in the case of an explosion, the atmosphere itself -- it's not a lack of air. It's -- the air has become contaminated. That's the -- that's the risk in an explosion.
So, you know, the -- the training that these miners have encountered is, following such an explosion, that they should get to an area where the air that they find is as good as they can locate, and then to barricade themselves in to essentially protect themselves and protect that air from becoming contaminated. So, that's our hope, that they are in such an area, and that the -- the miners are simply waiting to be rescued.
QUESTION: Can you explain what kind of train they...
QUESTION: ... to actually get there?
QUESTION: I understand that there were some concerns it's -- there is one veteran that has been at this for quite some time, but there is some concern that some may not be as experienced.
KITTS: Well, this is actually a quite experienced crew. I went through some of the details with mine personnel, and some of these miners on this crew have 30 years experience or better.
QUESTION: How many have 30 years and how many...
KITTS: There's -- I don't recall those exact numbers. Some of the least experienced miners have several years. Ten years is one of the lower numbers.
As far as training goes, there is an annual retraining requirement, in addition to the newly hired experienced miner training. And then there's weekly safety meetings that touches on training. Each of these training classes cover what to do in case of emergencies.
QUESTION: You said that the rescue teams were 4,800 feet in. How far down do you believe the miners are?
KITTS: At 4800 feet, we expect that they are about a mile, just over 5,000 feet, away from where the miners are thought to be.
QUESTION: The miners are another mile away from the 4,800?
KITTS: That's correct.
QUESTION: And is there rubble between the rescue teams and them?
KITTS: We have no way of knowing that, until the rescue team progresses through those areas.
QUESTION: Have you had any problem with fires?
KITTS: The initial monitoring this morning indicated the presence of carbon monoxide.
Those levels, as Roger relayed to you a moment ago, are not in concentrations that would cause concern at the 4,800-foot mark. We're hopeful that the carbon monoxide that was detected this morning was simply the byproduct of the explosion itself, and wasn't the product of a -- of a fire after the explosion.
QUESTION: Was it this carbon monoxide or was it a roof fall that stopped the four men who went in the first time from going any farther?
KITTS: The four mine employees who entered the mine shortly after the underground power went off advanced to roughly 9,000 feet.
And it wasn't a roof fall. It wasn't rubble. It was the readings that they were taking of the atmosphere that indicated that they were not equipped to go further. So, they exited the mine. And, actually, as they were in the mine, they called to -- called outside to have the dispatcher notify the safety agencies.
QUESTION: And the alarming reading was carbon monoxide or methane?
KITTS: It was carbon monoxide.
QUESTION: They never saw debris? I thought there was debris at 9,000 feet?
KITTS: I'm not sure where that report originated. But it is apparently incorrect, that there was no debris at 9,000 feet.
QUESTION: Now, are you working the rescue teams as (INAUDIBLE) now or (INAUDIBLE)
KITTS: The agencies, MSHA and the State Department of Mines, have opted to create a number of five-man teams. In many cases, those teams are being accompanied by regulatory personnel to make a six- or eight-man team in total.
So, of the -- of the crews that are in here from various companies and firms, they're working in five-man teams. But there's typically an inspector or a regulatory official with those teams, also.
QUESTION: Are they still working by hand? Are they taking any equipment in with them?
KITTS: They're still proceeding on foot and doing their work by hand. (CROSSTALK)
QUESTION: ... something -- there's something that I wasn't quite sure of in an earlier briefing. Exactly what time was the superintendent or other mine personnel aware that an explosion happened, they -- they knew it was an explosion?
NICHOLSON: The power at the mine went out at 6:31.
The superintendent received a call from the other section shortly thereafter. And he went in, along with some others, and progressed. And, at some point, several thousand feet in, he saw some stoppings that were out and...
QUESTION: By out, you mean what?
NICHOLSON: Had been -- what's the right word? Damaged. And, at that point, he understood that there was an event. He proceeded further, and then got the carbon monoxide readings.
QUESTION: OK. And, so, I just want to be clear on this. He stopped short of seeing any flame or heat exposure? He saw damage? Carbon monoxide levels rose? And then he exited?
NICHOLSON: That is my understanding, yes.
QUESTION: He did not hear anything? I mean, some neighbors said they thought they heard an explosion or felt...
QUESTION: We have heard reports that neighbors have...
QUESTION: ... fireball.
QUESTION: Felt vibrations.
NICHOLSON: We have no information on that.
QUESTION: Roger, you said you believed the drilling has begun since we have been in this room.
NICHOLSON: It was supposed to have. And we were supposed to get an update. I -- you know, I'm not going to stand here and say that it absolutely has. But we believe that it was to start at 10:30.
QUESTION: If it did begin, how long will it take them to drill down to 260 feet?
NICHOLSON: Four to six hours.
(CROSSTALK) QUESTION: Roger, who is -- who is in -- if you had to say who was in command right now, who's in command of this operation?
NICHOLSON: Well, that's -- from the company's standpoint, our -- ICG's senior vice president of operations for West Virginia and Maryland, Sam Kitts, is -- has been on site, and is, I guess, has overall responsibility for the company's reaction to the -- the event.
Of course, there are state and federal agencies. And so, really, it is a cooperative effort. We are cooperating with the -- the state and federal agencies, and with the mine rescue teams. So, we have both Sam Kitts, as well as other mine management personnel that are here on a day-to-day basis that are involved in the -- in the rescue efforts.
QUESTION: I guess my question goes to, ultimately, someone calls the shots. Someone says, send a rescue team in. Someone says, pull those guys out. Where does that responsibility lie right now?
NICHOLSON: That responsibility would primarily lie, I suppose, with MSHA and the state safety agencies to remove people if they believe it's unsafe.
QUESTION: So, you would...
NICHOLSON: Would that -- would you agree with that?
KITTS: In a situation like this, MSHA typically assumes authority for the operations. They have...
QUESTION: They would have overall command?
KITTS: They would issue an order that would prohibit any activity, other than what they authorize. And that's the situation we find here.
QUESTION: Can you quickly explain the purpose of the drilling for us, for those of us who weren't here earlier?
KITTS: The -- the drilling from the surface to where we think the miners should be located is to determine the content of the atmosphere at that point.
That is, we will be taking air tests of the air coming up the bore hole as it's completed to determine, you know, what is the methane content, what is the carbon monoxide content, to determine if it's -- if it's safe. If there's presence of a fire, for instance, that would -- that would allow us to know that. Subsequent to...
COOPER: You are listening to a press conference, Gene Kitts, the senior vice president for ICG Mining Services, the company that owns this mine. Also, we heard from Roger Nicholson, the general counsel for the company. Here are the headlines. Number one, they still don't know the status of these miners. They do not know if they are alive or dead. There still has not been any communication from any of the miners.
The good news is, they have two rescue crews which are leapfrogging, to use their term. And the deepest they believe they have gotten in is about 4,800 feet into this mine. So, they are making steady progress. The progress is not as much as was made early this morning by someone from the management company, who got to about 9,000 feet into the mine, before the air quality got so bad that they had to leave.
But they're -- the -- the -- the rescue team, which is much more coordinated, which has rescue devices with them, which has medical devices with them as well, they are about 4,800 feet, at -- at last word. So, they're making really pretty -- some -- some -- some steady progress.
About 1,000 feet or so, I would say, per hour almost is my estimate, based on where they said they were at the last press conference.
But the bottom -- the drill, which was supposed to have started around 9:00, they -- they said didn't get started at 9:00. They think it got started around 10:30, though they didn't have the final word on that. That is certainly not good news. We will have a lot more on the other side of the break.
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