U.S. officials have suspended the search for six coal miners missing deep underground in the western state of Utah, after a second collapse killed three rescue workers and injured six others late Thursday. Three of the injured are still hospitalized. VOA's Cindy Saine reports from Washington that the governor of the state of Utah has called the accident a turning point in the U.S. mining industry.
Thursday's mine wall collapse came on the 11th day of frantic efforts to find six miners trapped at least 450 meters underground at the Crandall Canyon mine in Huntington, Utah. It is still not known if the miners are alive or dead. There has been no contact with them since August sixth, and no signs of life.
Utah Governor Jon Huntsman summed up the feeling of many in Huntington, reeling from a second mine disaster even as the first one remains unresolved.
"Yesterday we went from a tragedy to a catastrophe," said Governor Huntsman.
After the mine collapse Thursday evening, all the rescue workers were evacuated. They had been digging through the rubble to try to reach the trapped miners.
Richard Stickler, the head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, announced the suspension of underground rescue operations at a news conference Friday in Huntington.
"We have suspended indefinitely the underground portion of the rescue effort," he said. "We had put in the strongest ground support system to try to protect the rescue workers, that is available and practical to use."
Speaking earlier Friday, Governor Huntsman made clear that the safety of the miners and rescue workers has to be the top priority from now on.
"We, as a state, don't want any more injuries," he said. "We've had enough and all I would say to Congress and to the regulators is, let's use these experiences over the last many days as examples and lessons for how we can begin to do things in the future a little bit better. I think this is a defining moment for the history of mining, and we all expect to come out of this better and smarter and safer."
It is still unclear what caused the original mine collapse. Robert Murray, the co-owner of the Crandall Canyon mine, has repeatedly insisted that the collapse was triggered by a natural earthquake. But geologists are now suggesting the cave-in itself was big enough to register as an earthquake on seismographs.
Murray did not attend Friday's news conference.
U.S. mines have become a source of work for many immigrants from Latin America. Mexico has confirmed that three of the six trapped miners are Mexican citizens.
Rescue teams will continue drilling operations from the top of the mountain to try to locate the six missing miners. The teams have been dropping cameras and microphones through the drilled holes, trying to pick up sound or pictures of the miners.
Stickler said that if any of the miners are found alive, rescuers could drill a hole large enough to send a capsule down to the depths of the mine to bring them back up.