Wednesday, November 24, 2010

NEW ZEALAND: PRAYERS NEEDED AS 29 MINERS DIE

NEWS.COM.AU REPORT: With grief on their faces, the families of 29 missing miners came bursting out of the meeting-hall. Some sobbed. Some clung to one another and gasped. And some screamed with rage - at the waiting media, at the police, at the beautiful evening sunshine.
At the Grey District sports centre, in the New Zealand town of Greymouth, the families had gathered for what they hoped might be good news.
Police and Pike River mine management had scheduled the regular briefing - and when the news started, it did seem good.
Mr Whittall said he had been called to the mine-site in the early afternoon because experts on site believed there may be an opportunity - soon - to send rescue crews in.
That news brightened the gathering - it seemed like hope.
"There was a round of applause, and I was standing there knowing what I was going to tell them next," Mr Whittall said last night.
"I just had to stand there and wait for the room to settle and say "That's not what I'm here to tell you about."
Mr Whittall's sombre demeanour told another story - and he immediately moved on to explain what happened next: gas levels began to rise, then at 2.37pm came a massive blast.
Nothing could have survived. At the main mine entrance portal, great clouds of smoke and dust billowed out for approximately thirty seconds.
"There is probably unlikely to be any survivors from that," Mr Whittall said. "There was coming a point where we were very hopeful we could get some men out of the mine, but it was probably realistic that some men could never have come out alive. This probably takes us to the point where I"m unlikely to see my workmates again. I'm unlikely to see them walk out of that mine."
As Mr Whittall delivered the news, the families stood, began shouting and screaming, and some ran out, said local Anglican pastor Tim Mora, who was in the meeting. "It was terrible. The scene was just awful," Mr Mora said.
Australian men Josh Ufer and Willy Joynson were killed in the blast. Mr Joynson's wife Kim and children Jonathon and Benjamin are holding each other close, family spokesman James Ashby said last night.
"Kim, in the back of her mind, had prepared for this," Mr Ashby said. "I don't know whether she had already begun grieving, but once the finality happened, it was just bang - here it is."
Mr Ufer's pregnant partner Rachelle Weaver was being comforted last night by her parents and Mr Ufer's mother Joanne and father Karl.
Another father, Laurie Drew, whose 21-year-old son Zen Drew was among the trapped men, vented his anger outside the hall. "The mountain's blown again, it's blown, they've told us they're all dead," Mr Drew said. "I've got to bury my son. It should have been the other way around. They've got what they wanted - if everyone has gone, they've got what they wanted because now nobody can come out and tell the truth except for the boys who are still here above ground, and they're going to be silenced or they won't get any pay-packets."
Mr Drew said: "Now I've got to bury my son. It should be the other way around. I've got to break the news to my mother, and just hope she doesn't have a heart attack. If they've got a total collapse, it's going to be a sealed mine and a sealed tomb."
As he spoke to a cluster of journalists, more family members emerged from the mine. "Turn your cameras away from me," one screamed at photographers. "How will you sleep tonight?"
The families were enraged and deeply distraught, local mayor Tony Kokshoorn said.
"This is the west coast's darkest hour. I'm telling you. It doesn't get worse than this."
Mr Kokshoorn said Mr Whittall's declaration had horrified the families. "It got started as normal, and they (Mr Whittall and district police commander Gary Knowles) came in they said look, we've got some news, we had to go up there for some assessment, and while we were there there was ane norms explosion. There was no way anyone could have survived it - and that was the end of the conference, and there was some anger, directed at the police - certainly not at Mr Whittall, everyone had nothing but praise for Mr Whittall at that stage."
Superintendent Knowles emerged from the meeting to say it was "the worst thing I have dealt with in the police.
"At 2.37 today there was another massive explosion underground. Based on that explosion, no one survived. We now go into recovery mode. I was at the mine myself when this actually occurred. The blast was horrific,
It is our belief that no one has survived, and everyone has perished. This is one of the most tragic things I've had to do as a police officer." Supt Knowles took off his hat, turned and walked away from the journalists, back into the hall where the families were waiting.
There were no clues as to what caused the explosion - or whether more explosions might come, Mr Whittall said.
"It was more significant, it was larger, it was stronger, it lasted about 30 seconds and it was not what I wanted to see," Mr Whitttall said.
"This is extremely devastating for the families. They were very hopeful that we would go up there this afternoon and that we'd be starting to look at going underground. "
"At conference after conference after conference, to ask the same question: If the air's clear in the tunnel, why don't you go in? And the same answer has been given over and over: because it's dangerous, it's hazardous and because the rescue teams would have put their lives gravely at risk. That decision has now been vindicated."
Mr Whittall spoke last night about Joseph Dunbar, the 17-year-old boy on his first day of work at the mine on Friday - just one day after his 17th birthday.
Joseph had worked the morning shift and could have left the mine before the blast, which occurred shortly after the afternoon shift began, Mr Whittall said.
"The young guy, he was on his first day. he could have got in a transport and got out of the mine, but he was so excited to be there, he chose to stay in the mine, because that's where he wanted to be."
"It's the west coast and it's a coal mine. I'd like to think we can keep on mining, keep having a good economy. It's a fantastic place to live, fantastic people. They all understand mining, and they all understand it's part of life."
From tomorrow morning, all flags in New Zealand will fly at half mast.Cabinet will on Monday launch a Commission of inquiry into "this time of national pain," Prime Minister John Key said.
"We are a tough and resilient little country. we care deeply about our countrymen and women," Mr Key said. "We are a set of little communities knitted together by a set of principles that have guided us through good and bad. It is this spirit that will see us through."Read more: http://www.news.com.au/world/second-blast-ends-survivors-hope-in-new-zealands-pike-river-mine/story-e6frfl00-1225960242446#ixzz16DCzodmf

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