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13 Miners Trapped Underground in West Virginia

Aired January 3, 2006 - 09:31   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody.
MILES O'BRIEN: Wild weather here. Wild weather everywhere of all stripes, all varieties. It's a lot going on on that front, but of course, our eyes are focused on West Virginia.

S. O'BRIEN: And unfortunately bad news came to us in the latest update. They checked the air quality in that Virginia coal shaft where the 13 miners are trapped. The news is not good. Many family and friends of those trapped miners, in fact, got that update while they were waiting at this Baptist Church in Tallmansville. Rescuers say that the level of carbon monoxide is dangerously high, many four times, three times as high as it should be, too high to support life. It's unclear, though, if those trapped miners are where the testing was done. So there's a glimmer of hope there.

Adaora Udoji has been covering this story for us all through the night, and of course into the morning as well.

Adaora, what's the latest?


Yes, some very disappointing news from the CEO of the mining company, telling us that after drilling all night, they managed to poke a hole into the mineshaft where they were hoping the trapped miners would be. It was the last area they were known to be before the explosion hit. As you say, after they drilled that hole, they stuck in the air monitor and discovered very high levels of carbon monoxide, so high that they say usually it wouldn't usually sustain life for more than 15 minutes. The CEO called that very discouraging. They also sent down a camera, looked around and did not see any sign of those trapped miners, and they even hit the drill, trying to send down some vibrations through the shaft to see if they would get any response, and they didn't.

However, he also said that they do remain hopeful, and that's because right now they've sent in a robotic robot, and that has cameras, and it also has additional sensors, and a far longer range down that shaft than that initial camera. So they're just hoping that those trapped miners were able to find and barricade themselves in a much safer place so they continue to look -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Tough news. We continue to monitor it and obviously hope for the very best. Of course we look back to that 2002 mine accident, where people were giving up hope as well, and it ended up with everybody surviving that. So there is hope. Adaora Udoji for us. Adaora, thanks -- Miles.



M. O'BRIEN: The rescue effort continues beneath the cold, rich hills of West Virginia. A rescue team about 9,200 feet inside a shaft of a mine, using a robot to extend their reach by about 3,000 feet. We've not gotten word back on that just yet, but we'll share any information we get on it. We should have a briefing in a little less than an hour's time.

In the meantime, a drilling sample, a core drill that went down to the area where the miners might have been, those 13 miners might have been, gave some bad news to those rescuers, indicating very high levels of carbon monoxide in that part of the mine where they might have been. But also no sign of the miners either.

To assess what all of this means we're going turn now to mine safety expert David McAteer, who is on the phone.

Mr. McAteer, good to have you with us.

First of all, that high level of carbon monoxide, and low levels, I should add, of methane, high levels of -- reasonable levels of oxygen. What does that tell you?

DAVID MCATEER, MINE SAFETY EXPERT: Carbon monoxide replaces oxygen in the atmosphere when you have an explosion or fire and that -- when you go above the 400 parts per million to the 1,300 parts per million that we're seeing here, it's a very ominous sign, because you can't sustain life at that level.

M. O'BRIEN: Carbon monoxide, of course, is poisonous. And would there be -- I know you don't know necessarily the schematic of this mine, but typically, are there places where you can get away from the carbon monoxide and find an air pocket?

MCATEER: Well, the idea is that you barricade yourself in before the carbon monoxide gets to you, and it certainly is possible, because the carbon monoxide would carry with the ventilation system, and that would be driven by where the fire was located -- I'm sorry, where the explosion was located, so there is a potential.

M. O'BRIEN: So their proximity to the explosion is very crucial then, when you consider that, if they were very near it, they probably would not have had time to do that.

MCATEER: That's absolutely right.

M. O'BRIEN: Not to mention the possibility that they would have been near an explosion.

Let's talk about putting this in context here. This mine, we're told, was shut down for the holidays. I haven't been able to get a good sense of how many days it was shutdown. Do you know, offhand, how long it was shutdown?

MCATEER: I understand it was two to three days.

M. O'BRIEN: Two to three days.

What's the significance of shutting down a mine and then going in that first time? Is that a particularly dangerous entry, that first entry?

MCATEER: Historically, an idle mine -- re-entering an idle mine is higher (ph) level of danger and potential danger, I should say, than other places, because you essentially are restarting equipment that's been shut down for a period of time, and that's where we are here.

The equipment restart can lead to arcing and or sparks or ignition sources that you would not ordinarily get otherwise. And you have ventilation changes that could have occurred because of roof falls. That might have occurred during the period of time that the miners were absent.

Now, they did indicate that there was a pre-shift examination, a fire boss going in to check these, and that report was positive. But we don't know that the fire boss saw everything. Or we don't know if that there were some factors that might have been missed.

But any idle period does give you pause, particularly when it's related to a change in weather as we saw here, because a barometric pressure drop would, in fact, although this mine liberates small amounts of methane, and we don't see much indication of methane, this barometric pressure might indicate the methane that was present, that there could have been some methane present which could have been the cause of this source of ignition. We just don't know yet.

M. O'BRIEN: Could lightning have triggered it? And if the methane was present, could lightning have sparked it?

MCATEER: It's potentially possible. There have been some cases where lightning has blown out stoppings or parts of the ventilation system in mines in Alabama. But it's not so -- the stamp, or the footprint of this explosion would not suggest that that's the case. But it's hard -- you don't want to dismiss anything because it's too early to tell.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you very much. That helps out quite a bit.

Davitt McAteer is the former federal assistant secretary for mine safety and health administration -- on the line with us.


S. O'BRIEN: More on this morning, as Andy minds your business. He's going to take a look at whether the West Virginia mining accident is in fact having an impact on Wall Street this morning.

Plus, a day in the life of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. A candid new video shows him doing everything from working to playing soccer. Is it going to score him any points with the public, though? We'll take a look at that ahead on "American Morning."


S. O'BRIEN: Something new from the British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He's had his staff put together a behind-the-scenes documentary on him. It includes some candid comments about the pressures of being prime minister.

CNN's Robin Oakley is in London for us this morning.

So Robin, in final assessment: Candid camera, good idea or not such a good idea?

ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Seems to be working out OK for him, Soledad. It's really kind of the folksy letter that some folks send out with their Christmas card to long lost relatives and friends giving a glimpse of their lives.

Here's Tony Blair playing soccer with kids in a gym, doing his thing at question time in the House of Commons, reminiscing about Margaret Thatcher giving him advice about question time -- being a way to look into all the nooks and crannies of government. And it's all done in that kind of informal P.R. style he does so well, with his jacket off, shirt sleeves -- and as one commentator said, he does this, "I'm a regular kind of guy, folks, thing" so well you really want to strangle him, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: You know, some of it's actually not shot particularly well. Every so often you sort of get a look at the prime minister's midriff. It's like, hello, can we get a better shot of him?

Is it true that you're in this videotape, Robin?

OAKLEY: Well, I make a small appearance, standing here at Downing Street doing just this kind of thing -- as he comes out and goes past.

But I'm afraid he wasn't going to include me on his Christmas card list this year. He got a bit upset with a question I asked him at the last press conference just before Christmas.

But really there's a strategy, I think, behind all of this, Soledad. He's got a feisty new leader of the opposition, a 39-year- old David Cameron, leader of their Conservative Party, who's really going to give Tony Blair a bit of a dance this year. He's going up in the opinion polls; Tony Blair is going down. He's the guy with the fresh ideas. He turned to Tony Blair at question time the other day and said, "You were the future once." And I think Tony Blair is out to show that he's the guy with the experience.

And he says in this video shot here in Downing Street that being leader of the opposition simply doesn't prepare you for all the strains and stresses of government. He's trying to show he's the guy who's still in charge, I think, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, it certainly is an interesting strategy, and yes, I remember that question from that press conference, Robin. You're not on the Christmas list, I'm sure.

Thanks Robin for the update. Appreciate it.

Let's get back to Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Let's say you want to be a producer, a television producer. Who needs those producers anyway? They're nothing but trouble. All they do is scream in my ear all day long anyway "Wrap. Wrap. Wrap." And they're telling me, "Move along," right now. All right Bondie (ph), I'm going.

What I'm going to do from now on when I don't want to hear from them is go to Pipeline, which is CNN's latest -- well, it's not latest. It's something that's never been done before. You have access to many of the feeds which we have access to during the course of the day on your computer desktop by going and downloading a little bit of software, paying a few bucks.

You will be on the pipeline and be able to watch stories at your leisure, or if stories are of great interest to you, live events that we're not particularly covering, you can find them there.

Melissa Long, joining us now from the CNN Pipeline control room -- the official rollout for Pipeline is today. They sort have already had a soft rollout. I think we told you about that a little while ago.

Melissa, walk us through. To the uninitiated, tell us all about pipeline.

MELISSA LONG, CNN PIPELINE: Well, first let me say I'm so excited that you're ecstatic about our product, as well.

So let me take everybody on a tour of our very sophisticated cutting-edge tool. It is called Pipeline. And it's called Pipeline because we have four pipes. I want to show you now the pipes -- if we can call up the individual pipes.

This is the Pipeline player. If you look at the bottom of your computer screen right there, you'll see pipe one, which is now playing, and that's our programming that we have available for you in pipe one.

You might have live feeds, you might have some taped programming, but you have so many option. If you look at pipe two, we're getting ready for that live press conference from West Virginia about the 13 miners still trapped more than a day later. We are waiting for that press conference at 10:30. Right now we are broadcasting the 7:30 press conference to bring you up to date.

Pipe three, quiet at the White House right now. It's a damp day there -- about 45 degrees or so. Things will get a little more excitable later today. We'll check in with Scott McClellan, the White House spokesperson for the daily news briefing.

And if you have a question about the weather forecast where you are right now, we have a window on the rest of the country so you can check out your weather forecasts.

We have live feeds streaming 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. You're sitting at your desktop. You're not at home. You don't have access to CNN TV. This is your window on the world about what's going on in all corners of the globe.

I want to show you another feature. It's really one of my favorites. It's called the search function. If you look at the right hand corner of the Pipeline player, as we call it -- say you're a bit out of the loop about baby Noor. Baby Noor is in Atlanta right now for some life-saving surgery. Type in the name, Noor, and all of the stories that we have accessibly right now will pop up about baby Noor. It's a relatively new story. You will only see a few stories about her right now, but say you were to type in "Jeanne Moos," one of my favorite reporters, always puts me in a good mood, you put her name in right there M-O-O-S, and guess what, you'll get thousand of stories she has done. We have a vast archive here, dating back to CNN's inception. So that's the search function.

And again, one of my favorites is called the "your voice" function. You'll find that on the player as well. That's in the middle of the player. Click on that icon. That's an opportunity for you to have a more interactive experience with CNN Pipeline.

For instance, we had a Pipeline user -- we don't call them viewers -- a user write in, asking us a question about cookies. Live on our air, we asked our technology correspondent Daniel Sieberg about the cookies, and that pipeline use her an answer immediately.

Miles, it's a fantastic product, really sophisticated, totally cutting edge, as you see.

M. O'BRIEN: Cookies and all.

All right, Melissa Long. Thank you very much.

A reminder, you can get CNN Pipeline at our Web site at You can go to, or go directly to -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. Thanks. "CNN LIVE TODAY" is coming up next. Let's go to Daryn Kagan, talk about what she's working on.

Hello, Daryn. Good morning.


We're going to do a little old-fashioned television here. At the top of the hour, the very latest on the efforts to rescue those 13 trapped coal miners. They're expecting another update from the scene in about 30 minutes. You heard Melissa talk about that. You'll see that live here on CNN. Also, it could have been a cat-tastrophe. The story of a heroic pet that called 91 on behalf of the owner. Really, I'm not kidding. The cat dialed 911.

We love our cat stories here on "CNN LIVE TODAY," and we have a doozy for you.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, the cat so did not call 911.

KAGAN: the cat called 911.

S. O'BRIEN: I had a cat once. No, they don't dial 911.

KAGAN: Saved its owner's life.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes. We'll look forward to that story, Daryn.

KAGAN: Stay tuned, yes.

S. O'BRIEN: I'm not buying it. Are you buying that? I'm not buying that.



S. O'BRIEN: We've got a short break. We're back in just a moment.



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