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As of this morning, rescue workers are still waiting to resume the effort to search for survivors of the late afternoon blast which occurred at the Massey Energy Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia. The odds that any survivors remain are bleak. The day of the blast, 25 miners were already reported dead, two hospitalized and four still missing.
According to the report by West Virginia Public Broadcasting, the cause of the explosion was thought to be a build-up of methane gas. Kevin Stricklin, of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, told a press conference that the gas is now dissipating and there does not appear to be an active fire, allowing the rescue team to move as quickly as possible.
WVPB repots that since the Sago Mine explosion in 2006 that killed 12 miners, new safety measures have been required. Ron Wooten, director of West Virginia's Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training, says the Massy Upper Big Branch mine is in compliance with state safety regulations, but not with the higher federal standards. "West Virginia law requires that we know when people are moving onto a section," he said. "It doesn't require that we track them on the section," Wooten told WVPB.
According to an additional report by WVPB, Davitt McAteer, the former head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration during the Clinton years, is urging the government to adopt more improvements on safety regulations as soon as possible. New mine safety technology and more self-contained self rescuers are available and should be utilized without delay. "We are not doing enough, nationwide 415 active underground mines nationwide are required to have added better communication systems. As of two weeks ago, only 34 had installed fully operational systems of communication," he said.
McAteer has written investigative reports on the Sago Mine accident and the Aracoma mine fire in 2006. What he wants now is more transparency from coal companies and government officials when dealing with mine safety issues.
The federal government is ready to assist in the rescue operation, President Barack Obama said the same morning, at a White House gathering of religious leaders for a prayer breakfast.
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