On August 6th, a shift registering 3.9 in the earth trapped six miners 1800 deep inside a mountain north of my little town at the Crandall Canyon Mine.
Since then, three more miners have died scrambling to dig out their fellow workers when the earth moved again, while working in teams going in 24 hour shifts, 7 days a week in the 27 days since the disaster.
They drill down holes, seven in all now, to where the tunnels are, trying to find signs of life. The minor earthquake, thought to have caused the tunnel roof to stay firm, but, blew out the sides. Coal flew out like missiles It was hoped the miners sought refuge in an eating area, although the hole drilled there showed nothing but rubble when the microphone and then the robotic camera was lowered in. I have to wonder why, in this day and age, miners are still working in fairly un-electronic conditions. Why not have some form of location chip, or small GPS?
They stopped doing horizontal drilling since the collapse of the tunnel that killed the other three miners.
I don't know how much coverage this is getting outside of Utah. It covers our front pages, and is the opening story every night on our news.
Today, they announced this bore hole is the last one. If there is no sound, no signs, they are stopping the rescue effort. No one says it, but, it actually became a search for bodies a bit ago. The miners families gather every day, and wait. You do that in mining towns, when you hear there is a collapse, an explosion.... you gather, and you wait.
Sometimes, you get lucky, and they find everyone, and church bells ring and they come out alive...all of them, some of them, but, life leaves the mine. Sometimes, they die down there in the complete blackness. I simply can't fathom that life or death.
I cannot fathom a miners life. Neither as a miner nor as being a miner's wife or child. To enter that cold, wet, absence of light deep under the weight of a mountain is so foreign to me, my mind moves away from the thought. There is a tunnel in Colorado that takes you under the Continental Divide, the Eisenhower Tunnel. I knew people who worked digging through the mountain, when it was called the Straight Creek Tunnel project. Even in the summer, they came out cold..not just cold, but, cold to the bone. A friend said there was a mind set you had to have, to not think about what was above you.
When I drive through that tunnel, on my way to or from Denver, I close my thoughts to the 14,000 ft of solid rock above me, and I go a wee bit faster than the 45mph limit. When I read The Stand, I remember that being one of the most horrifying parts for me, the travel made walking through that section of I-70, over cars, dead black, mountain above you... I'm not sure I'd have come out sane.
These communities are close knit, hard working, and go down into those shafts every day. And, you can be sure, while doing their work, raising their kids, a little part of the families above ground listens for the mine whistle.
Kerry Allred, Don Erickson, Luis Hernandez, Carlos Payan, Brandon Phillips and Manuel Sanchez.
If you pray, remember them and their families. All miners... who would tell of a life in words we've never seen.