Rescue continues in Utah mine explosion but world’s visitors are turned away

Monday’s crash — not a terrorist act or a natural disaster but a terrible accident — recalls the Agnes Price Memorial Mine explosion in New Zealand nine years ago.

Mine workers and officials rushed to recover the bodies of the mine’s 147 workers who had been killed in a New Zealand coal mine when a gas explosion cut off communication with the outside world. News crews showed up from around the world, from as far away as Washington.

On Monday, those visitors were turned away, as the wreckage was being left untouched for several days of study and search. “It’s an open mine so it’s very light. There are no windows and the copper roof supports the roof,” said Deryk Birr, an official with the New Zealand Coal Miner’s Union. “There’s no building to investigate in there. So it’s more like that of a space ship — in the air and out of the air. It’s like a single cavern that’s five stories high.”

Birr told the Associated Press that workers at the remote mine in Waikato, a farming county, have created an airlock and airlock to vent any gases, and this will allow the recovery team to search the wreckage. The difficulty in the search is considerable. An entire mine is of necessity in hardworking New Zealand: The average salary is $8,000 U.S.

The Richter scale for the Richter number of the underground mine was set at 458. A plume of steam was sent out on a computer at the end of the 24 hours after the explosion. The Air Rescue Service and firefighters also sent in full-size helicopters, which appeared to take off in a zigzag formation, going underground to evaluate the scope of the damage.

The Richter scale described the plume of steam as “highly active … suggesting a pressurized system being activated … the pressurization reaching 330 meters per second.”

At the height of the rescue effort, a demand for world-class rescue equipment by the local government was reported. A mayor from a neighboring city said then that “certainly you need specialist equipment to locate the bodies and other things. It’s very serious. It’s uncharted waters.” The local fire department, meanwhile, reported that the natural gas for the mine had been shut off and they did not have to dig wells. The thick coal used in the mine, on the other hand, was mined by coal miners.

The last New Zealand mine explosion occurred in 1997. The government has been scrambling to overhaul mine safety regulations since that New Zealand explosion, and the government said its efforts and the work of the mine’s owners had worked. But the junior mining company in New Zealand that operated the mine was criticized by locals and industry officials.

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