Tuesday: Mine Rescue Hampered by Fumes; 49 Dead in Baghdad Bombings

BY Paul Solman  April 6, 2010 at 8:59 AM EDT

West Virgina Mine Explosion

A truck passes a sign Tuesday morning in Whitesville, W.Va., near the explosion at the Massey Energy Company’s Upper Big Branch Coal Mine. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images.)

Unsafe levels of toxic gases forced rescue teams in West Virginia to suspend their search Tuesday for four workers still missing following the blast that killed 25 people Monday in the worst U.S. mine disaster since 1984.

Rescuers at the Massey Energy Big Branch mine are drilling holes to get oxygen into the mine and rising levels of methane out. However, it will probably take until the early evening before officials can determine whether it is safe enough for the recovery operation to resume, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin said.

“All we have left is hope, and we’re going to continue to do what we can,” Kevin Stricklin, an administrator for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, told reporters. “But I’m just trying to be honest with everybody and say that the situation does look dire.”

While the cause of the blast remains unknown, the Big Branch mine, located about 30 miles south of Charleston, has a history of safety violations. Three other deaths have occurred there over the past 12 years. The Associated Press reports that Richmond, Va.-based Massey Energy has been fined $382,000 by federal inspectors over the past year for violations related to its ventilation system. Those violations included allowing combustible coal dust to pile up and having improper firefighting equipment.

NPR and West Virginia Public Broadcasting are following the story closely, and we’ll have more updates here throughout the day.

49 Dead, 160 Injured in Baghdad Bombings

Multiple explosions rocked Baghdad for the second time in three days on Tuesday, renewing fears that sectarian violence may be returning to Iraq. At least 49 people were killed and 160 wounded by at least five bombs across the Iraqi capital, which officials are blaming on al-Qaida. The latest bombings come as lawmakers work to fill the political vacuum left after no single political party won enough votes in parliamentary elections last month to form a government.

It was the fourth set of attacks with multiple casualties across Iraq in five days, a spate of violence that has claimed more than 100 lives.

U.K. General Election Set for May 6

Calling it “the least well kept secret of recent years,” Prime Minister Gordon Brown of England has confirmed the U.K.’s next general election will be held May 6. The race will be Brown’s first as leader of the nation’s Labor Party. However, with the British economy still fragile in the wake of the global downturn, polls show Brown running neck-and-neck against leader of the opposition Conservative Party, David Cameron.

Duke Wins NCAA Championship

The Duke Blue Devils beat Butler, 61-59, on Monday night to win their fourth NCAA men’s basketball championship. The game, which came down to the final seconds and included five ties and 15 lead changes, is already being called an instant classic.