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Safety of Coal Mining Debated after Utah Mine Collapse

Rescuers announced plans Wednesday to drill holes to supply water and air to six trapped coal miners in Utah. A reporter in the area and a mining expert talk about the rescue mission and the dangers of the profession.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The six coal miners have been trapped for almost three days now after the shaft they were working on caved in early Monday morning. About 150 rescue workers have been working around the clock at the Crandall Canyon Mine in Emory County, about 100 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, Utah.

    The men are trapped more than three miles from the mine's entrance and about 1,500 feet below the mountain's surface. Rescuers are about two days away from completing two small holes above the mine. They will provide fresh oxygen, food, water and communications, if the miners survived the collapse.

  • BOB MURRAY, Co-Owner, Crandall Canyon Mine:

    We can provide everything they need, including a toothbrush and a comb, to keep them alive indefinitely until the underground effort gets to them.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Investigators are trying to determine whether the miners were taking part in a form of mining known as retreat mining. In this method, miners excavate sections of the mine, leaving coal pillars to support the shaft. After they've cleared the area, they'll implode it, bringing down the pillars and collapsing the mine behind them.

    Family and friends of the trapped miners are trying to stay hopeful.

  • FRIEND OF TRAPPED MINER:

    I'm just really scared.

  • FRIEND OF TRAPPED MINER:

    Everyone is praying right now.

  • FRIEND OF TRAPPED MINER:

    I just hope he's all right, and I hope they can get him out.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Federal inspectors have issued more than 300 violations for this mine since 2004; about 100 of them were "serious." As recently as last month, they were cited for inadequate escape passages.

    For the latest on this story and for some understanding of the challenges in rescue operations, we go to Utah. Terry Wood is covering the story for the ABC network affiliate in Salt Lake City, KTVX-TV, where he is an anchorman. He joins us from the command center in Huntington.

    And Michael McCarter is a professor of mining engineering at the University of Utah.

    Gentlemen, thank you both for being with us.

    And starting with you, Terry Wood, we know the rescue operation had to stop last night because of unstable ground. How are things going right now?