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Mine Rescue Mission In West Virginia; Wildfires In Texas; Wife Of Trapped Miner

Aired January 3, 2006 - 07:30   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody.
You can see here they're just getting ready for a news conference. It's going to begin any minute to update all of us on the status of rescue efforts for these 13 miners in West Virginia. Obviously it has been more than 24 hours now since anyone's heard from any of these miners. They have rescue efforts going on on two fronts.

First, a tunnel was made in to about 9,200 feet. They believe that, in fact, the miners are at about 10,000 feet. After they got that far, they decided to bring those rescuers back out again and then try to drill through with a six-inch drill, as you can see right here, from above 260 feet.

That drill went in. Apparently they had to clean the camera, brought it back out again, put it back in again. That word coming to us from the governor of West Virginia. And once they've done that, they're going to roll in on tracks a robot who will come in and try to assess exactly what the situation is inside for those 13 miners.

Everybody holding out hope. The governor told us he believes in miracles and certainly people are praying and crossing their fingers too.

Adaora Udoji's been covering this story for us all though the night from Tallmansville in West Virginia.

Adaora, good morning to you. What's the latest? Where do things stand right now?


Indeed, we did, a few minutes ago, get a little bit of an update from the governor. He's saying that they did manage to get through to the mine shaft with some drilling overnight and that they've sent a camera down to take a quick peak but that camera, he said, only has about a 16 to 20-foot view and that's why what will happen next is that robot will go in ahead of rescue teams that were pulled out to send in that robot which has cameras. It also has a sensor so that it can detect dangerous gases, it can measure the air quality and it also has the ability to travel much further than the camera that they have just sent in a little while ago. The robot being able to go, we're told, about 3,500 feet.

And as you said, the rescue workers stopped 9,200 feet in. That's nearly the two-mile range where they think that the miners are trapped. That's two miles from the entrance and 260 feet down ward. And so they are making progress, slow progress, towards the point where they believe that those miners are.

But we are expecting to hear much more of an update from the mining company executives who should be coming to speak any moment now. And, in fact, may even be delayed, Soledad, because from what they've told us, they first go and debrief family members who have gathered at a nearby church so that they are getting the latest information, and then they are coming to brief the press.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: One would certainly hope so, so that family members don't find out any news just by hearing it on television or over the radio.

Adaora, thanks for the update. We'll, obviously, check in with you throughout the morning. And we're waiting for this press conference. There's the room where it's going to be held. You can see everybody's set up with their mics there. We're going to bring that to you live as soon as it happens. And as Adaora said, the delay may be a briefing that goes on before the news conference, with the family members.

Other headlines, Kelly Wallace has those.

Hey, Kelly, good morning.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Soledad.

And we're following another rescue operation which is underway right now. This one in Germany. Crews there are using bulldozers and cranes to look for some 20 people missing after an ice rink collapsed. We have some new pictures in to CNN this morning which we're showing you there. Officials say the snow covered roof got too heavy and then collapsed. At least nine people are confirmed dead.

They are still mopping up in Northern California. Massive storms dumped more than 10 inches of rain in the northern parts of the state. A state of emergency has now been declared in seven counties. And as this storm is moving south, officials up north are shifting into cleanup mode. The damage from just two towns in the region is estimated at more than $100 million.

We could learn as early as today whether a top Republican lobbyist has agreed to plead guilty to wire fraud and this could have implications for members of Congress who have ties to this lobbyist. We're talking about Jack Abramoff and his lawyers may reveal a plea agreement during a meeting with a federal judge. Abramoff is scheduled to go on trial Monday in connection with the purchase of a casino cruise ship company in Florida. A partner in the deal pleaded guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy and is now cooperating with prosecutors.

Former Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry is said to be fine after being robbed at gunpoint. Barry says he was robbed at his apartment last night by some teens who helped carry his groceries. This is video from the scene of that crime. The former mayor says the ordeal -- or the mayor, excuse me, says the ordeal was traumatic but he is grateful that he was not hurt. The former mayor, excuse me.

And Farris Hassan, the teen who went off to Iraq on his own, could speak to reporters today. Hassan heads back to school this morning after three weeks in Iraq. He came back home Sunday to a throng of reporters and camera crews. And his mother says he'll face "consequences" for not telling his family about his travel plans.

That gets you caught up. Now back to Miles and Soledad.

MILES O'BRIEN: Thanks very much, Kelly.

Imagine what it was like in Ringgold, Texas, on New Year' Day. Ringgold, about 85 miles north of Dallas and very close to the border with Oklahoma. It was all but wiped out by fire on that day. There you see it on the map. And the town virtually taken off the map. Obviously, a small town initially. And for the family members now, many questions as to what lies ahead in the new year and beyond. Joining me now are Ringgold residents Carolyn and Melvin Grissom, along with their son-in-law Troy Taylor.

Carolyn, I'll begin with you. First of all, we're so sorry about everything that's happened to you. It's a terrible way to begin the new year. Terrible way to spend any old day. You were in your house, you looked up, you thought what you saw were storm clouds, right?

CAROLYN GRISSOM, RINGGOLD, TEXAS, RESIDENT: Correct. It was just like getting cloudy and we were all hoping it was storm clouds because we hadn't had rain for about three months.

MILES O'BRIEN: So what happened after that? When did you realize that it wasn't a storm, that it was actually a firestorm?

CAROLYN GRISSOM: Oh, it was about maybe 20 minutes later that I went outside and looked and we looked toward the southwest and you could tell then it was smoke just because of the way it was swirling and we knew it was getting a little bit closer to us.

MILES O'BRIEN: Now, Melvin, you were not at home, but, Troy, you were nearby.


MILES O'BRIEN: When did you realize the house was in trouble and what did you do about it?

TAYLOR: Well, we seen it over there, seen the smoke to the southwest. It was probably a mile and a half away. And the sheriffs department come by, says we're evacuating Ringgold. So we thought we had a little bit of time. So we started packing up some stuff in their travel trailer and everything and it wasn't six minutes or six minutes, seven minutes, it was on us. I mean, it was coming at us about 55 to 60 miles an hour. MILES O'BRIEN: That must have been a pretty scary thing. What did you do? Did you try to use a garden hose to beat it back or did you just get out of there?

TAYLOR: Well, when the first wave come, we just got out of here. I told Carolyn to get out of here. She had three of my kids.


TAYLOR: And a grandbaby and told her to get out of here. I went over next door to my house and I got my wife and my two other kids. But my son I couldn't find. But we had to get out of here, you know, because it was just a wall.

MILES O'BRIEN: And, as I understand, your -- go ahead. Finish up.

TAYLOR: And what I did is, I just took off and just made a circle and I come back. I come back because I wasn't going to leave my oldest son. And all we did was just make the block and we come back and found him standing in the garage. And I told my wife to get those two out of here, I think I can save this. So I can get out of here if I need to.

MILES O'BRIEN: So, obviously, the fire was too much.

Melvin, you were away when all of this happened. When you found out about it, what went through your mind?

MELVIN GRISSOM, RINGGOLD, TEXAS, RESIDENT: Well, the fact that you're not here and that you don't know for sure what all is going on. And when they first called me and told me that there was a fire, you know, I told them just, you know, get what you can get and make sure everybody gets out. You know, that's the important thing. And I guess at that point I didn't realize that -- you know, how bad it really was, you know, until later. Then they finally got back in touch with me later and, you know, that they had to leave and what they had to go through to, you know, to get out and how close it was -- it came to, you know, more than just the house. And it could very well have been all of them, you know?


MELVIN GRISSOM: And that's when it really hits you, you know, and you get really scared then.

MILES O'BRIEN: Well, that puts it in perspective, doesn't it, when everybody's safe and sound and it was kind of a near miss.

MELVIN GRISSOM: Yes, sir, it does.

MILES O'BRIEN: What's next? Ringgold, as we say, terrible devastation there. Do you plan to rebuild?

MELVIN GRISSOM: At upon this point, yes, sir, we sure do. We live here in Ringgold. We love it here. It's a wonderful place to raise kids and our grandkids and stuff are here. By the grace of God, they, you know, they saved their home and everything. So we plan to be here. We got, you know, we got great friends and wonderful neighbors. And we don't see any reason to leave, you know, other than, you know, we got to start over somewhere else, it might as well be right here in Ringgold, you know.

MILES O'BRIEN: All right. We wish you well on that. That's not an easy thing to do. The Grissom's of Ringgold continuing to be of Ringgold according to Melvin. Melvin and Carolyn Grissom, their son- in-law Troy Taylor, thanks for being with us. Good luck to you in the new year.

MELVIN GRISSOM: Thank you, Miles. Appreciate it.

TROY TAYLOR: Thank you.

MILES O'BRIEN: All right. We're going to check the weather now. We've been telling you Chad Myers is returning on Thursday morning. Boy, we've been hyping his return, haven't we?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Yes. He pays us a dollar every time we mention it, Bonnie.



MILES O'BRIEN: We don't want to make you feel less than welcome, Bonnie. We love having you here with us.

SCHNEIDER: Than you.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Two bucks, Bonnie, we'll start putting you first.


MILES O'BRIEN: But we keep saying, there's somebody else coming. There's somebody else coming.

All right, Bonnie, what's going on in the world? And specifically, let's talk about the possibility of more fires coming through that part of the world.


BEN HATFIELD, INTL. COAL GROUP PRESIDENT: In the second last section area, near where the trapped miners were thought to be.

MILES O'BRIEN: All right. Back to West Virginia. This is that briefing we've been telling you about. This is the president of the coal mining company.

HATFIELD: Pounded on the steel and we listened for a response. They repeated this process several times overall a 10-minute period but the drill crew heard no response. The air monitor is attached to the drill recorded oxygen of about 20 percent methane and 0.4 percent, both of which are favorable, and carbon monoxide of 1,300 parts per million. This carbon monoxide level far exceeds regulatory limits for respirable air of 400 parts per minute for 15 minutes exposure. Therefore, we are very discouraged by the results of this test.

A camera was dropped into the mine via the drill hole for purposes of conducting a visual search for survivors or barricade structures. The visual search was inconclusive. No barricades or survivors were seen, but there was also no evidence of substantial explosion damage to the installed equipment that was within view.

The V-2 search robot is now being taken into the mine and will proceed as previously discussed to investigate the area lying immediately ahead of the mine rescue teams. We'll provide a further update as soon as we have feedback on the process of the robotic search. While we're very disappointed by the information we've received thus far, we remain determined to continue the search so long as there is hope and hope remains.

With that, I'll be glad to take any questions.

QUESTION: Sir, Bill Hemmer from Fox News. Why did you decide to drill in that area?

HATFIELD: This is -- we drilled in the approximate location of the second left section feeder breaker. This is near the end of the track and that's about the location that the crew would of been occupying if they had just dismounted from the man trip that took them to the working section.

QUESTION: Just that there is a debris wall so there would be air leading up to where the rescue crew got was acceptable and now you found unacceptable air and there is some division between second left and where the rescue crews got?

HATFIELD: Which doesn't necessarily mean there's a debris wall. What it likely means is that the air is short-circuited because of damaged ventilation. The force of an explosion oftentimes disables the ventilation system and causes the air to short-circuit and that allows the toxic gases to remain in the area of the explosion. That's the concern.

QUESTION: Sir, back to the original question.


QUESTION: Would you say based on everything you know, that this was your best guess to drill?

HATFIELD: I wouldn't go that far. I guess that's one way of characterizing. This is where we had hoped to get some view of a possible barricade structure because this would have been a logical retreat area for the miners to go to if they had discovered a problem and felt that it was not safe to exit the mine. So it was our best guess. That's probably a good way to characterize it. But by no means our last guess.

QUESTION: Do you believe now that you need to drill in another area or do you find this area satisfactory for your initial inspections?

HATFIELD: At this point, we believe more information can be gleaned from the robotic search as we extend from the area where the rescue crews have searched and investigated. They've pushed forward to about the 9,200 foot point, that's 9,200 feet in by from the portal. So our plan is to launch the robot from that location and we believe that will be the most productive avenue of investigation.

QUESTION: Sir, is there still hope that the miners are alive with the carbon monoxide level at that percent -- or 1,300 parts per million?

HATFIELD: There is hope that they could be in another location or they could be barricaded somewhere, protected from that level of carbon monoxide. But certainly if they were in this particular location, that's not an environment that would sustain life.

QUESTION: With the levels being this high, this residual, -- do you feel it's residual or you still have a fire somewhere down underneath?

HATFIELD: I don't think we know those answers yet. There's no indication there's an ongoing fire. Again, all indications from the air measurements we have to this point is there was a combustion but not an ongoing fire.

QUESTION: Could you explain to us (INAUDIBLE) what you're talking about then? This is simple I a gaseous type of explosion which ignited the air? Is that what you're suggesting? As opposed to anything that might have taken down the structure of the wall itself? Help us through and understand how this would have happened. What kind of combustion we're talking about.

HATFIELD: All we know is that there was an explosion. We do not know what the fuel was. Indeed, the methane levels indicated by the samples at the drill hole are certainly not explosive levels of methane. So we really do not know what the fuel source was. It remains a mystery. And we'll continue this effort until we know those answers.

QUESTION: If the other crew was at first left (ph) -- this crew was supposed to be at second left (ph). The only other place to go was, I don't know what that next spur (ph) is called that's almost more straight ahead. Where else could they have been?

HATFIELD: Well, the second left is a large area. We just really measured one location on second left from the one visual advantage point and that being the drill hole. So there is large areas of second left that would be out of sight of the drill hole. We simply went to what we thought was the most likely site.

QUESTION: But wouldn't that area be completely filled with gas (INAUDIBLE)?

HATFIELD: There is risk that it is. But, again, we don't know those answers and we don't know that there isn't a barricade somewhere around the corner. We remain hopeful.

QUESTION: Have you briefed the family this morning on this information?

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) what's the reaction in the families?

HATFIELD: I'm sorry. One at a time.

QUESTION: Have you briefed the family this morning on the information you just gave us? What was their reaction?

HATFIELD: It has always been our policy to bring the families up-to-date first. So every time we have given you an update, we've gone to the families first and they get exactly the same information. They are certainly concerned. Indeed I would say the concerned are heightened. But they remain hopeful, as we do.

QUESTION: What questions did they asking you after you gave them that information this morning?

HATFIELD: I'd rather not get into that at this point. Those are personal conversations.

QUESTION: Could you restate the carbon monoxide levels and what is in shape (ph) for the (INAUDIBLE) conditions?

HATFIELD: The measurement at the drill hole, again, which was just a single measurement, was approximately 1,300 parts per million. And according to my health and safety standards, respirable air that exceeds 400 parts per million for 15 minutes exposure is the upper limit that would sustain life. So that's certainly a very dangerous and toxic level.

QUESTION: Mr. Kits (ph) (INAUDIBLE) showed us where you were drilling. It was not really at the center of second left, but it was -- it was still kind of like a wide area of that opening.

HATFIELD: It's in the central location of the section. Coal miners call it the feeder breaker location. That's where the coal is transferred from shuttle cars or raim (ph) cars onto a conveyor belt to bring it outside. So it's a common gathering point on the section.

QUESTION: And (INAUDIBLE) the barricade. I mean, where would they get fresh air from? Where could they survive this at the level of carbon monoxide?

HATFIELD: We can only speculate at this point. The common school of thought might be that they would try to find an area that was breathable, that hadn't yet been contaminated by the smoke and the carbon monoxide and try to maintain that environment. That's all at this point we can hope that they were able to do.

QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit more about the function of the robot that you're sending in through the 9,200 (INAUDIBLE)?

HATFIELD: I'm really not technically knowledgeable of it, other than to tell you that it's a -- approximately a 1,300-pound machine that's track-mounted or crawler mounted, which allows it to move independently. It's controlled remotely by an individual with the Mine Safety and Health Administration. And I am told that it is equipped with the ability to sample the environment, as well as do videotape of what's in front of it. So that's about all I know about it at this point.


HATFIELD: It has both air sampling ability and video recording ability. So that's about all we know at this point.

QUESTION: So you have to send it in and bring it out before you'll know -- it's not a live feed or anything like that?

HATFIELD: Well, it's not a live feed to the surface. We'll be having information relayed from underground to the contacts at the mine office where we're working again with state and federal regulators to analyze the information.

QUESTION: Sir, (INAUDIBLE) our last briefing you said that the robot had a 3,200-foot range.

HATFIELD: We're told 3,500 feet of flexible cord, which is essentially its limit at this point.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) it has to be hard-wired back to the . . .

HATFIELD: I believe that's the case, yes.

QUESTION: Sir, several miners families have expressed to us that their relatives who are inside the mine did not feel the mine was safe and, in fact, as we've discussed last night, the company was been cited for 46 violations in December. Can you address the concerns of some family members who have felt that, in fact, their relatives were feeling unsafe with about the conditions of the mine?

HATFIELD: Our focus is not on defending one record or another or decrying one person's opinion over another. Our focus is on getting our people out of there and that's all we want to aim at, at this point. What we want to do is find out as quickly as we can where our people are, if they're still alive, and bring them out safety to families. And that's all we want to focus on at this point.

QUESTION: What's the possibility they could be in another location? I know you answered the question -- her question earlier that may they found a place of air (INAUDIBLE) or maybe they're not there altogether. Where else could they be?

HATFIELD: This is a fairly large area. Again, the maps, because they're small scale, sometimes create the image it's an easy place to search. This is a large area. So there will remain areas that we can't see with cameras and have not yet been able to access with crews. So we simply don't know where they may be.

QUESTION: If they were barricaded in when the (INAUDIBLE) . . .

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: You've been listening to Ben Hatfield. He is the (AUDIO GAP) update that he did with the family members of some of the coal miners. And kind of a mix of good news and very bad news. He said, first, the air monitoring has now happened and there's a 20 percent oxygen level. Also, the methane gas levels all favorable for survivability for these 13 miners who have been underground now for in excess of 24 hours.

What's not good news is the CO level far exceeding the limits that would be survivable by their standards for 15 minutes of life. The normal, the upper limit of that is 400 parts per million for 15 minutes. He said it was measured at something like 1,300 parts per million. Obviously, way above.

We're going to talk, obviously, more about the story as we continue to monitor the search and rescue efforts. No one giving up hope at this point. He says it's a very big area, lots to still search.

MILES O'BRIEN: Back with more in a moment. Stay with us.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

We're still holding out hope for those 13 trapped miners in West Virginia as officials saying initial air quality test though not good. A camera that they sent down, though, didn't show to much damage, which would be some good news. Meanwhile, it is just an agonizing wait for those relatives of the trapped miners. Anna McCloy's husband, Randal McCloy, is one of those who's trapped. And she joins us via video phone from a nearby church where some of the family members have been waiting for any news.

Anna, thank you for talking with us. I know this is just a horrible time for you and your family. You had an update, as we did just a moment ago, from the mining company. What were they able to tell you?

ANNA MCCLOY, WIFE OF TRAPPED MINER: About (ph) the same thing. I've only had a brief talking with my family because I've been interviewing. And I really don't know much besides for their air quality. And I'm just hoping for the best.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Yes, we all are hoping for the best. It's tough news about the air quality, although I guess there's some good news, too. The oxygen levels are good, the methane levels are all good for survivability. The CEO said he's holding out hope. Are you still holding out hope?

MCCLOY: Yes, I'm still hoping and I'm praying.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Are you getting lots of support? I mention that you're in front of this church where I know a lot of the family members have been going. Is there a strong group around you that's helping you and other family members like yourself?

MCCLOY: Yes, my mother, father, sister, brother and my mother- in-law and father-in-law.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Your husband Randal, how long has he been a miner for.

MCCLOY: That's what's holding us together, is just (ph) stick together.


MCCLOY: All together, three years. FOR This mine, it's a year and a half.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Had he mentioned any concerns about this mine to you? Was he worried about the safety, as we've heard some other family members say?

MCCLOY: Yes, he has mentioned it to me before about the mine safety. But there were a lot of things he didn't tell me because he didn't want me to worry. But, yes, we have talked about the mine safety. And we had discussed about him getting out.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Really? What did he say about getting out, because he had only been in for about three years?

MCCLOY: Well, he just wanted to get into another career and just to let the mines go. It was just too dangerous. It wasn't worth it.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Do you feel like you've been getting good assistance and good . . .

MCCLOY: (INAUDIBLE) work and stuff to support me and the kids because he didn't . . .

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: I'm sorry. Go ahead, Anna. Forgive me for interrupting you there. Go ahead.

MCCLOY: Oh, that's OK. Just go ahead. I don't even remember what I was going to say.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Well, you were talking about your husband working in the mines to support you and the kids as well. I know it's a very dangerous and tough business, but one that can pay fairly well.

MCCLOY: Yes. Yes. He didn't -- he had this job because he didn't believe in me working. He wanted me to be home with the kids. So he worked this job so that he could pay for everything that we have.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Well, I know they're still holding out hope and we're waiting for any word as they continue to try to get any information on exactly the status of these 13 miners, your husband included.

Anna, thanks for talking with us.

Good luck to u.

We've got our fingers crossed. We're praying, as well, that there is only good news that's going to come out at the end of the day.

Thanks -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Our Adaora Udoji is in Tallmansville and she has been watching this for us. She's been there all night long -- Adaora Udoji, that last briefing we heard offered up a dose of potentially bad news. While the hope remains, there is, though, those high levels of carbon monoxide inside that mine.

ADAORA UDOJI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now, absolutely. The company's CEO, Ben Hatfield, starting off the press conference by saying that they had sent a camera down after drilling a hole all night long and they discovered that the levels of oxygen were favorable to sustaining life. They discovered that the levels of methane were favorable to sustaining life.

However, he said it was "very discouraging" -- and that's a quote -- "very discouraging." The levels of carbon monoxide are at a point where they would not sustain life ordinarily longer than 15 minutes. And they also said that that camera did not see any signs of those trapped miners.

But, however, he also said that they are still hopeful.


BEN HATFIELD, CEO, INTERNATIONAL COAL GROUP: While we're very disappointed by the information we have received thus far, we remain determined to continue the search so long as there is hope. And hope remains.


UDOJI: And the hope is this. The camera that initially has already gone down only had a range of about 16 to 20 feet. However, now they are going to be sending in a 1,300-pound robotic robot, Miles. And that has a range of 3,500 feet. And not only that, it has a camera, so it's going to be able to provide them with video and sensors to continue monitoring the air quality.

So they are certainly hopeful that that little camera just couldn't see where those miners are, but that robot will -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, I think it's worth pointing out to people, we're talking about such a huge area, that walkable shaft that you see the lower right of your -- part of your screen. The miners are believed to have been -- that's a little steeper than it probably is in that schematic. But it's about a two mile walk down that decline to the location where they are.

And the robot itself is positioned currently at the 9,200 foot point, which is right around two miles. It can go an additional 3,000 feet or so.

But the mine continues beyond that, doesn't it, Adaora Udoji?

UDOJI: No. Absolutely, Miles.

But another thing that they were encouraged by was the fact that the initial evidence doesn't seem to indicate that the mine shaft itself suffered terrible amounts of damage, meaning that they're not running into a whole lot of debris past the point where the miners are trapped, past the point where there was some debris blocking that mine shaft.

But, yes, this is an enormous labyrinth of mine shafts. There's a lot of ground to cover. But they are concentrating in the area where the cars would have ended when the explosion occurred yesterday morning -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Adaora Udoji is right there at the -- near the Sago mine there. Actually, probably standing pretty much right on top of it, in West Virginia.

Thanks very much -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: We heard Ben Hatfield, the president of the International Coal Group, field a question about safety violations. Forty-six reported in the mine over the past year. The Sago mine, we should mention, has had a really tough time, 206 -- 208 allegations back in 2005; three times as many violations as 2004.

Similarly, the state found 144 alleged safety problems last year, nearly twice as many as the year before. And records show that all but the most recent violations have been corrected. Officials say they don't know what caused the explosion. The mine has been cited for allowing coal dust and other combustible materials to build up inside the mine.

Sago's accident record in 2004, three times as high as similar mines around the country.

But Ben Hatfield, again, the president, he said at this point we are not focused on defending any records. Right now we're focused on rescuing the 13 miners who are trapped inside the mine.

Coming up in our next half hour, we're going to get an idea of just what happened and what those miners face inside the mine. We're going to talk to the man who led much of the rescue efforts during the Quecreek mine rescue back in 2002 in Pennsylvania. Also, one of the miners that was pulled to safety, as well, will share his thoughts. That's ahead.

Stay with us. M. O'BRIEN: Flooding and heavy snow out West, drought conditions, high wind and fires in the Southern Plains and the Southeast, severe thunderstorms and even tornadoes. Out there in the Atlantic Ocean, there's actually a tropical storm still churning.

It's pretty wild weather, isn't it?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is like a firestorm. I've never seen anything like this.

M. O'BRIEN (voice-over): It's water.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The water just kept rising. It was going over four feet out front and we just gave up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is our home. This is all we have. And to redo everything, I know things can be replaced. But it was our home.

M. O'BRIEN: Disastrous weather is blanketing the country.

In the town of San Anselmo, north of San Francisco, seven inches of rain fell in about five hours over the weekend, causing about $40 million in damage.

In southern California, they're bracing for possible mud slides.

And for the first time in 50 years, it rained in Pasadena on the Rose Parade.

Farther north, in the Sierra Mountains, some 50 inches of snow has fallen in the past day or so.

But a lack of rain, along with too much wind, are the problems in the Lower Plains. Firefighters there battling grass fires that have scorched some 300,000 acres in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. And no relief from Mother Nature in sight.

In the Southeast, wild weather of yet another stripe -- a dozen tornadoes reported on Monday in Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia, where a twister gave one family the ride of their lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were like in an elevator. It picked us up and then everything started spinning inside. And then this -- the bottom came back out of it and we hit the ground, and there was this -- I mean I had no clue that we had actually moved off the foundation this far.

M. O'BRIEN: And the harsh conditions know no borders. Europe also getting hammered. Heavy snow blanketed parts of the continent. In southern Germany, a roof of an ice rink collapsed, killing at least 10.

And this may look like Texas or Oklahoma, but it's Australia's Central Coast. Record high temperatures and fierce winds fueling fires down under.


M. O'BRIEN: Bonnie Schneider at the Weather Center for us with a little bit more on what is a very busy time for her and the rest of the meteorologists there -- hello, Bonnie.



M. O'BRIEN: Let's get some other headlines in.

Kelly Wallace in for Carol Costello this morning -- Kelly, good morning.


It has been about 21 hours now that rescue crews in southern Germany have been digging through debris to try and find any survivors after an ice rink collapsed. These are some new pictures from the scene there coming into us here at CNN.

At least nine people are now confirmed dead. Crews say that they will keep looking as long as it takes, that they're still holding out hope. But the conditions outside are not good. It is snowing and temperatures are dipping downward.

To the White House now, which is stepping up its effort this week to defend its policy on terrorism. The president set to take part in a meeting today concerning the Patriot Act. He is lobbying Congress to extend the anti-terror measure, parts of which are set to expire next month.

The president visits the Pentagon on Wednesday to give a speech concerning the war on terror. And then later in the week he flies to Chicago on Friday to try and convince Americans that the economy is on solid footing.

A court appearance this morning for former Ohio football star Maurice Clarett. He's accused of robbing two people with a gun New Year's Eve. Clarett turned himself in to police Monday night after two days on the run. The court hearing is expected to get underway in about an hour.

And we expect to learn more today about how a Florida teenager who apparently speaks no Arabic got into Iraq. The teen arrived back in Florida Sunday, after three weeks on his own in the Middle East. Hassan's dad says he helped him secure a visa into Iraq once his son arrived in the region, but that was about it. Farris Hassan is expected to give a statement later today. We, of course, will be monitoring that and keep us posted -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, thanks, Kelly.

Coming up this morning, an update on this mine rescue mission that we've been following out of West Virginia all morning. Officials say they are discouraged by some of the results of the air quality tests they've just gotten back.

So where do the efforts go now? They're focused on a robot. We're going to talk about that just ahead.

M. O'BRIEN: Also, what it's like to be trapped in a mine for hours or even days on end? We'll talk to a man who survived the flooded Quecreek mine in Pennsylvania back in 2002.

S. O'BRIEN: And later, another controversy on New Orleans' road to recovery. Can the city demolish homes without asking the owners? We're going to take a closer look at that issue ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: Many cheerleaders are paying a price for their team spirit. A new study out says that cheerleading injuries have increased at an alarming rate.

Ed Lavandera has our story.



ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From the moment Tracy Jensen stepped on the University of Nebraska campus, she knew cheering on the Huskers would be her passion.

JENSEN: I just thought it was amazing. I was impressed and blown away by these girls flying through the air.

LAVANDERA: She was living the dream her junior year, soaring and spinning in the air at football games. But during a practice session near the end of the 1996 football season, Jensen launched into a difficult jump when something went wrong.

JENSEN: In the middle of the air it was like vertigo. I could tell where I was. And when I hit the ground, I thought I had just knocked the wind out of myself.

LAVANDERA: It was much worse.

JENSEN: I couldn't feel anything except for my face. There was no air. I wasn't breathing.

LAVANDERA: Friends kept her alive using CPR until the medics arrived.

JENSEN: Everything was going black and I was thinking is this it?

LAVANDERA: Jensen had landed on her head and broke her neck in three places.

JENSEN: And we're thinking god, if you want me, take me now. And if you don't, leave me here.

LAVANDERA: Jensen woke up a quadriplegic, needing a ventilator to breathe. In that tragic instant, she became a statistic in a disturbing trend that's often overlooked.

(on camera): In the last 20 years, the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research found that cheerleaders were involved in half of the serious injuries involving female high school athletes.

Fast forward to college and the number jumps to 65 percent.

(voice-over): Injuries range from torn ligaments to skull fractures and broken necks, leaving many paralyzed. Experts say cheerleading should not be considered a cute after school activity.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, let's lie down and do some of your neck and shoulder stretches.

LAVANDERA: Jensen's accident prompted the University of Nebraska to limit the stunts its cheerleaders could perform. Gone are the high flying acrobatics.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pick them up faster. That's it. Good. Knees up. Knees up.

JENSEN: I remember the feel of things. Just my body doesn't cooperate when I go to do them.

LAVANDERA: Tracy Jensen will never leap into the air like she did as a cheerleader, but every step she takes these days makes her feel like she's flying again.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Dallas.


S. O'BRIEN: Dr. Gary Smith is with the Columbus Children's Research Institute.

He was part of that cheerleading study. Bethany Hancock is a former cheerleader.

She was severely injured in a fall.

They join us this morning.

Thanks for being with us.


S. O'BRIEN: Dr. Hancock, let's begin with you first. Let's run through, to kind of bring everybody up to speed on this study.

It was conducted between 1990 and 2003, involving children between five and 18. And you found that a total of 209,000 cheerleaders were treated for injuries during this time period -- a 110 percent increase.

What do you attribute the increase to, doctor?

SMITH: Well, we don't know exactly what the cause is for the increase that we observed. But it's likely due to the fact that the activity has changed.

What used to be once a school spirit activity has now become an activity that requires a lot of technical skill and athleticism. Stunts have become more complex and falls are from higher heights. And that results in more injuries.

That's likely the cause.

S. O'BRIEN: Bethany, let's talk about your injury.

When did it happen and what exactly happened to you?

BETHANY HANCOCK, SUFFERED CHEERLEADING INJURY: Well, it was a senior before -- it was the summer before my senior year and it was at practice. I was working on a jump in the hallway, in front of the display case so I could see myself. And I landed with my knees locked out on a marble floor and tore both my ACLs.

S. O'BRIEN: Wow!

Does it affect you to this day? Is it an injury that you've been able to successfully recover from, Bethany?

HANCOCK: Well, it still affects me today. I shake when I walk up and down stairs. My knees hurt if I do a lot of activity for an extended period of time. So I definitely still feel it today.

S. O'BRIEN: How old are you, Bethany?

HANCOCK: I'm 19.

S. O'BRIEN: You're 19 years old and your knees shake when you walk up and down the stairs.

Dr. Smith, I've got to ask you, is Bethany's story typical of what you found in the study?

SMITH: Yes, Bethany's story is very typical. Often cheerleaders are practicing when these occur. And unfortunately in this country we don't have any unique standards that have been adopted on a national level.

We had three recommendations from the study. One is we feel that uniform standards rules and regulations should be adopted on the national level. We feel that cheerleading coaches should be required to take training and be certified in cheerleading safety. And we also think that a national database should be established for cheerleading injuries that will allow us to look at trends of injuries, as well as to evaluate whether interventions to prevent injuries are working.

S. O'BRIEN: All those three...

SMITH: So those are our recommendations from the study.

S. O'BRIEN: Forgive me for jumping there for a moment.

All those three recommendations, though, don't seem to go to what you pointed out might be the cause, which is it's just much more athletic today than it was, say, 10, 15, 20 years ago.

Do you think that there is a way to actually prevent -- you know, they're doing gymnastics without a mat, essentially.

SMITH: That's exactly right. But what you just said is where I think we need to focus the attention.

Most of these injuries are occurring because of falls. And we know from basic physics that the amount of energy that is transferred to your body in a fall, which is the cause of the injury, is related to the height of the fall and the surface that you land on. And so if, for example, we provided appropriate surfacing under the area where people are practicing, that would be very helpful.

In addition, if we knew that people were supervised appropriately, if people were trained in cheerleader safety, so that people were progressed through the maneuvers as their ability allowed, I think these injuries would dramatically decrease.

S. O'BRIEN: Bethany, I'm going to give you a quick final question.

You're 19 years old. As you mentioned, your knees shake when you just walk and up down the stairs.

How worried are you about 10, 15, 20 years down the road for your health?

HANCOCK: Well, I'm really worried because I know a lot of people who have had ACL surgeries and it still affects them. My aunt had it and she still feels it.

And so I'm really worried, but I guess it's just something that I'm going to have to deal with.

S. O'BRIEN: Bethany Hancock and Dr. Gary Smith, thanks for talking with us and sharing your story and information on the study, too.

SMITH: Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: More information, we should mention, on our Web site. You can go to -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: We'll have more on the breaking news out of West Virginia in just a moment.

We'll also talk to the miner who survived the Quecreek mine accident back in 2002. Remember that one? Does he think the men trapped now can pull through and be pulled out of the ground like they were?

That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: There is hope for the 13 miners trapped 260 feet below the surface at the Sago mine in West Virginia. But, frankly, it is a very dim bit of hope.

You see there the cross section of the mine. We believe it is a slope mine, which means about a two mile walk to where the miners were when the explosion occurred more than 24 hours ago now. About 260 feet, as we say, below the surface.

Along that dotted vertical line, that 260 feet distance, a hole was drilled earlier this morning. Sampling equipment and a camera were dropped in. The camera was inconclusive. It needed to be cleaned. But the air sampling equipment offered up some very grim news, that the amount of carbon monoxide in that mine shaft is about three times what is allowable for sustaining life over just a 15 minute period. So imagine more than 24 hours exposure to what is at three times what is considered acceptable for human life over a 15 minute period.

So high levels of carbon monoxide inside that mine.

The hope is that the 13 miners were able to retreat from the carbon monoxide clearly generated by that explosion, perhaps, of methane, to a pocket in the mine that would allow them to seal themselves from the carbon monoxide and maintain some sort of sustainable air for this period of time.

We don't know yet. A robot is on its way further into the mine. And as soon as we hear more, we'll let you know about it.

Now, while we wait for word on that, you, of course, are probably hearkening back, as we all are, to that successful Quecreek mine rescue about four years ago. Hope was diminished then, as well. A big difference, though. There was no explosion.

David Mattingly has an accounting of that.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Covered with mud and utterly exhausted, nine trapped coal miners emerged from Pennsylvania's Quecreek mine in July of 2002 after flooding made entry to the mine impossible. If it weren't for two critical decisions made by rescuers in the first hours, the miners would have surely perished.

DENNIS HALL, RESCUED MINER: I made peace with the lord and I figured if this is the way he wants me to die, you know, I have to accept this. I'm not liking it, but I did accept it.

MATTINGLY: First, believing the miners would instinctively run for the highest ground possible, rescuers began drilling a small air shaft using GPS and land surveys to pinpoint the location from above. Eight hours after the mine flooded, carbon dioxide from the old mine had the miners gasping for breath. Just minutes from death, the drill broke through at the perfect spot with fresh air.

JOHN UNGER, RESCUED MINER: When they punched that six inch hole and put that other pipe in there and started bringing air into us, it saved our lives.

MATTINGLY: The second key decision made by rescuers was to then create an air bubble, pumping enough air into the miners' shaft to force out the rising carbon dioxide. Again, it was the right move.

MARK SCHWEIKER, FORMER PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR: And all nine are alive and we believe that all nine are in pretty good shape.

MATTINGLY: The ninth and final miner was eventually pulled to safety three days and six hours after the disaster began. All nine alive thanks to important decisions by rescuers in those early hours that turned out to be the right ones.

David Mattingly, CNN, Atlanta.


M. O'BRIEN: We will hear from one of the Quecreek survivors in just a few moments.

Please stay tuned for that.

And we just got word in two hour's time, 10:30 Eastern time, we will be getting another briefing from the owners of the mine to give us the latest report on what that rescue team has been able to learn, as we say, using that robotic technology to delve deeper into that Sago mine.

Back with more in a moment.


S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

Another rainy day here in New York City. Kind of gloomy weather. And it kind of matches the news that we're talking about today, as we continue to monitor this rescue effort for those 13 miners in West Virginia. As we get an update, things are looking quite gloomy.

Let's get right to Kelly Wallace.

She has an update on this story for us -- hey, Kell.

WALLACE: Hey, there, Soledad.

That's exactly where we're beginning.

Air monitors show high levels of carbon monoxide in that mine where the 13 workers are trapped, a development mining company executives call "very discouraging." The miners have been 260 feet below ground for about 26 hours now. A camera dropped into the mine did not show any hopeful signs. But officials say they are not giving up hope.


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