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New Zealand PM demands answers as nation mourns miners

In Uncategorized on November 25, 2010 at 1:20 am

GREYMOUTH, Nov 25, 2010 (AFP) – New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said Thursday he wanted answers on what went “terribly wrong” in a colliery blast that killed 29 men in the nation’s worst mining disaster for almost a century.

He also warned it could take “months” to recover the bodies of the workers who died underground in one of the country’s worst mining disasters, as the grieving mining community pleaded for the return of their loved ones.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key speaks at a press conference in Wellington on November 24, 2010 after authorities said all the 29 men missing in the coal mine have died after a powerful second blast tore through the pit. AFP

As flags across New Zealand flew at half-mast, Key said the nation was struggling to understand the tragedy at the Pike River colliery, where miners trapped by an explosion last Friday were confirmed dead after a second blast Wednesday.

“We need answers to what happened at Pike River. Clearly something’s gone terribly wrong and it’s now claimed the lives of 29 people,” said Key, who has travelled to Greymouth on New Zealand’s South Island to be with the families.

“The nation is grieving and mourning alongside them,” he said.

“It’s only right and natural and fair that the family members would want to have the bodies recovered so that they can have some closure.”

However, a lethal cocktail of volatile gases remained in the mine and Key said this would delay recovery attempts.

“That (recovery) has to occur in a way that is safe to those that would undertake that mission,” he told reporters. Previous international experience had shown the operation could take “quite some months”, he said.

As messages of condolence poured in from around the world, Key praised the rescue efforts, which some relatives of the miners have criticised after the gas threat stopped emergency workers from going underground.

“It wasn’t for the want of trying, or the willingness, or the courage or the bravery of those that would have gone in to undertake the rescue — it was just the reality of the situation,” he said.

“A mine in this condition is a highly volatile environment, liable to explode at any time without any notice.”

Authorities have launched at least four inquiries into the disaster, whose victims ranged from a 17-year-old on his first shift to a 62-year-old veteran, and included two Australians, two Britons and a South African.

“This is a mine that’s claimed the lives of 29 men and they (the families) are are entitled to honest answers about what went wrong, what lessons we can learn,” Key said.

Mine owner Pike River Coal said it would cooperate fully and was holding its own investigation into the disaster at the colliery, a new facility that sent its first shipment of hard coking coal for steelmaking to India only this year.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined Australia’s prime minister, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II — who is also the head of state of New Zealand — and other dignitaries in expressing their “heartfelt condolences”.

New Zealand has lost “29 brave and hard-working men who will be mourned around the world”, Clinton said as the queen said she was “deeply saddened” by the deaths.

“My heart goes out to the families and friends of these 29 brave miners and to all who have been touched by this national disaster,” she said in a message to Key released by Buckingham Palace.

Grey District mayor Tony Kokshoorn, who declared the incident the “darkest hour” of the South Island’s rugged West Coast region, said the focus has turned to the grim task of recovering the bodies for the grieving families.

“They won’t feel closure until they’re (with) their loved ones,” he told TVNZ.

New Zealand’s other major mining company, Solid Energy, has suspended underground operations at its Spring Creek mine near Pike River and its Huntly mine in the North Island as a mark of respect, chief executive Don Elder said.

A number of specialist mine rescue staff from Spring Creek and Huntly were involved in the Pike River rescue operation.

Source: SGGP

29 miners believed dead after second NZealand blast

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2010 at 6:19 am

 All 29 men missing in a New Zealand mine were presumed dead Wednesday after a “horrific” second blast tore through the colliery, plunging the country into mourning.

Police said there was now no chance of finding anyone alive, confirming the country’s worst mining accident in nearly a century and prompting anguished scenes as distraught relatives wept, shouted and collapsed to the floor.

“There was another explosion at the mine. It was extremely severe,” superintendent Gary Knowles told reporters.

“Based on expert evidence I have been given… it is our belief that no one has survived and everyone has perished.”

The entrance to the Pike River Coal mine in New Zealand.

Knowles said the explosion, whose cause was unknown, ripped through the Pike River coal mine at 2:37 pm (0137 GMT) on Wednesday, five days after the initial blast trapped the 29 men including two Australians and two Britons.

The victims of the blasts ranged from a 17-year-old on his first shift to a 62-year-old veteran.

High levels of toxic and combustible gases had stopped rescuers entering the mine in a remote area of New Zealand’s South Island.

“I was at the mine myself when this actually occurred and the blast was horrific, just as severe as the first blast and we’re currently now moving into recovery phase,” Knowles said.

District mayor Tony Kokshoorn said the incident was the “darkest hour” of New Zealand’s rugged West Coast region, a centre of the country’s burgeoning mining industry based on exports to Asia.

“It’s unbelievable. This is the West Coast’s darkest hour. It doesn’t get worse than this,” Kokshoorn said.

He added that grief-stricken families, who have suffered an agonising five-day wait for a rescue that never came, were angry that the dangerous gases had been allowed to build up again.

“They don’t know what to do. They just sobbed openly, just fell to the floor. There were people just shouting out, anger,” Kokshoorn said.

“The cause was the build-up over the last five days of the gases again and they noticed this this morning. A lethal mixture ignited the entire mine,” he added.

Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee announced a series of inquiries aimed at finding out the cause of the mine disaster and preventing any repeat.

New Zealand lost 19 miners in 1967 but the last accident on this scale was in 1914, when 43 died in a gas explosion at a mine in Huntly on New Zealand’s North Island.

Stop-start rescue efforts had earlier inched forward when a bore hole into the mine finally broke through, revealing a toxic cocktail of dangerous gases with little oxygen.

A remote-controlled robot — the second such device after an earlier one broke down — also travelled about a kilometre (half-a-mile) into the mine and found the helmet of one of the only two survivors, with its headlight still lit.

Source: SGGP

Robot snag dims hopes for trapped N.Zealand miners

In Uncategorized on November 23, 2010 at 2:33 am

‘Every chance’ missing NZealand miners alive, says PM

In Uncategorized on November 22, 2010 at 10:08 am

N.Z. colliery boss downbeat for miners’ survival

In Uncategorized on November 22, 2010 at 10:06 am

New Zealand PM expresses hope for trapped miners

In Uncategorized on November 20, 2010 at 6:13 am

Explosion at NZealand mine, 25-30 miners missing

In Uncategorized on November 19, 2010 at 5:56 am

Floods, landslides as illegal sand miners erode central region rivers

In Uncategorized on October 22, 2010 at 11:52 am

Many rivers in the central region are overflowing and causing floods as rampant mining of sand has from stripped their banks clean.

People use pumps to suck sand illegally in the Tra Khuc River in the central coastal province of Quang Ngai (Photo: SGGP)

The 15-kilometer-long Tuy Loan River in Da Nang, for instance, sees tens of boats equipped with pumps sailing up and down daily to illegally exploit sand.
They berth one after another between 2am and 2pm to set up the pumps on the banks and extract sand.
There are dozens of illegal mines along just one kilometer of the river and many craters.
Le Thi Lan, who owns a vegetable farm near the river, said the river has encroached deeply into the land. If authorities fail to do act, there will be no land left by the end of this year to grow vegetables.
People living on Mo Coi hillock in Quang Nam Province’s Dien Ban District said dozens of boats come every night to take away sand, causing landslides.
According to the Dien Phong Commune Farmers Association, some 40 hectares of land in the commune have been lost to encroachment by the river, lands that once supported many families.
Triem Tay hamlet in the commune lost tens of hectares, forcing over 20 households to move.
More than 30 boats come every day to this area to take away thousands of cubic meters of sand.
Ninety out of 125 families have moved out of Vinh Thanh hamlet due to landslides.
In Quang Ngai Province the Tra Khuc River’s vicinity looks like a war zone with a huge number of boats mining sand from dunes.
In Quang Ngai town, dozens of trucks line up early morning every day in Le Hong Phong ward to mine sand from dunes.
Natural resources stolen
The People’s Committee of Hoa Nhon Commune in Da Nang, established a team equipped with a boat to patrol dunes and detect illegal miners earlier this year.
However, due to a shortage of personnel and limited powers, the team cannot arrest illegal miners but only impose fines of up to VND1.5 million.
As a result, the illegal exploitation continues.
Nguyen Dang Du, chairman of the committee, said his commune has lost three hectares of farmland in less than a year to the mining and admitted his administration’s helplessness to do anything.
The Department of Natural Resources and Environment in Quang Ngai said the province People’s Committee plans to auction away the right to mine sand along the Tra River.
In recent years, after every flood season, many landslides occur along the river.
The central region is in chaos — illegal sand miners are everywhere, river banks and nearby lands are being eroded, people are losing their farmlands, and official agencies are unable to do anything to prevent all this.

Related articles:
Illegal gold miners dig up central coastal region
Titanium mining causes distress along central coast

Source: SGGP

Illegal gold miners dig up central coastal region

In Uncategorized on October 20, 2010 at 7:03 am

Authorities in the central coastal provinces seem helpless to curb a “gold rush” as thousands of people converge on the region with rudimentary tools, making it look like a battlefield.

People illegally dig in a mountain for gold in Tuong Duong District in the central coastal province of Nghe An. Authorities seem powerless to stop the mining.

Ho Van Thanh, police chief of Dakrong Commune in Quang Tri Province’s Dakrong District, said the mining has not only caused air pollution and landslides in the region, but also accidents.
A mine collapse in September killed a woman and injured three men, he said.
The police have staged some 30 raids in the last six months to catch the illegal miners.
However, these have not deterred the prospectors who continue to dig in mountains and rivers.
To avoid the police and other authorities, the miners start in the evening and work until early morning, fleeing to neighboring places when detected.
Among the worst affected is Phuoc Son District in Quang Nam Province.
Dinh Van Dong, chairman of the district’s Phuoc Duc Commune People’s Committee, said he does not have enough personnel or funds to stop the illegal mining and take over the mines.
Hoang Dinh Nhat, deputy head of the district Natural Resources and Environment Department, admitted the illegal prospecting continues because of poor management by local authorities.
While the police sometimes manage to expel the miners, the administrative authorities fail to stop them from returning, he said.
Besides, the prospectors often get advance information of the raids and flee into forests before the police arrive, he added.

Related article:
Titanium mining causes distress along central coast

Source: SGGP

Rescued Chilean miners hold emotional reunion

In Uncategorized on October 18, 2010 at 10:24 am

COPIAPO, Chile, Oct 17 (AFP) – Rescued Chilean miners have celebrated an emotional mass at the scene of their record-breaking survival amid some strains over the media frenzy surrounding them.

Thirteen survivors, accompanied by partners and children, took part in a private ceremony Sunday after visiting the tent city where relatives refused to give up hope, waiting anxiously for 10 long weeks for their safe return.

Chilean miner Jorge Galleguillos (R), one of the 33 recently rescued from the San Jose mine, is shown back at the mine for a Mass on October 17, 2010. AFP

Claudio Yanez, who proposed to his longtime companion Cristina Nunez during the ordeal, toured Camp Hope with his tiny daughter in his arms, peering into tents now empty and battered by the strong Atacama desert winds.

“This was a city,” he said, while workers slowly set about taking down the makeshift shelters that became home to thousands of relatives and well wishers as the massive rescue effort reached its euphoric climax on Wednesday.

Dario Segovia, a rescued drill operator whose sister Maria was nicknamed “The Mayoress” for the leadership role she assumed at the camp, paid tribute to the stoicism of the miners’ families.

“Everyone suffered out here as we suffered down there,” he said.

Many miners did not attend the mass as they were still recuperating after their 69-day ordeal, while others were sleeping off family celebrations that ran late into Saturday night following their release from hospital.

Only one miner, Victor Zamora, remains in the care of doctors and he is expected to remain under medical observation until at least Tuesday after undergoing serious dental surgery.

The return to the mine was part of what is expected to be a long process of readjustment for the 33 men, who have become national heroes and garnered global attention for their miraculous survival and dramatic rescue.

Their newfound fame could bring them riches, but they also plan to use it to improve the fate of miners worldwide, they said.

But some miners and their families began showing strains from the media frenzy over their spectacular tale of survival, with some apparently adhering to a “pact of silence” over the ordeal.

At least three miners contacted by AFP confirmed that there is an agreement of silence, but only about the first 17 days of their ordeal, when they survived on sparsely rationed bites of tuna and drank dirty mine water until they were able to get word to rescuers that they were alive.

“We will not talk about the first 17 days until the investigation (into the mine collapse) is complete,” said Carlos Bugueno, one of the rescued workers.

But fellow miner Omar Reygadas said there was no such pact.

“There is no pact of silence,” he said. “There is nothing to hide, we went through the experience as partners, there is nothing to be ashamed about.”

Still, Reygadas grew impatient as he navigated through a crowd of news crews around the tent where his family slept while he was trapped.

“Give me my space please,” he said.

Fellow miner Claudio Acuna was with a crying baby, riding in a car surrounded by journalists. A woman inside said to the him: “Smile, so they can take your picture, and then they will leave us alone.”

Although the miners in the camp had no problems posing for the cameras, almost all of them refused to give statements to the press.

Police had to intervene to allow the miners to tour the remnants of Camp Hope, at the foot of the San Jose Mine, where the accident occurred.

At a press conference Saturday, miner Juan Illanes, who acted as spokesman for the group, urged the media to have patience in reporting and said that the miners expected to write a book about their experience.

“We have to do something together, the experience must be put to use,” Illanes told El Mercurio newspaper. “We have to decide how to direct our project so this type of thing never happens again.”

Yonni Barrios, who famously asked both his wife and his girlfriend to come to the mine and greet him on Wednesday, told AFP the men wanted to find a way to advise companies on making mines safer.

“We’re thinking about creating a foundation to solve problems in the mining industry,” he said. “With this, with the experience that we have had, God help us, we should be able to solve these problems.”

Source: SGGP