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Rescuers Near Trapped Miners After Working Overnight

May 10, 1992

PLYMOUTH, N.S. (AP) _ Rescue workers with oxygen tanks strapped to their backs inched closer Sunday to 26 coal miners trapped by an explosion in a methane-filled coal mine.

The rescuers had worked painstakingly slow overnight with drills and heavy equipment. They have had no communication with the buried miners since early Saturday, when an explosion ripped through the Westray mine, about 75 miles north of Halifax.

Relatives of the trapped men spent the night in a fire station close by. Some sat in brightly lit windows looking anxiously toward the mine entrance.

″It is still a rescue operation,″ said Colin Benner, spokesman for Curragh Resources, the mine’s owner. He said rescuers were within 200 yards of the trapped men by mid-morning Sunday.

Workers were pumping oxygen to the men, but they did not know if it was reaching them about a mile from the mine entrance.

Progress is slow because rescue crews are setting up temporary ventilation systems each step of the way and restoring electric power as they go.

The cause of the blast was not immediately known.

″I felt the shock, the windows rattled. I knew right away it had to be the mine,″ said Marshall Doyle, whose 27-year-old son Robbie was among those trapped. ″You always live with the possibility that something like this is going to happen.″

Doyle said he went to the mine site after the explosion, and saw twisted steel covered with dust and smoke pouring out of ventilation holes.

Andy Gillis, an official with a union hoping to organize the Westray workers, said employees had complained of safety violations including high levels of methane in the mine.

But mine President Marvin Pelly said during a televised news briefing that Westray did not have a gas problem, and that company standards were better than required.

Giacomo Capobianco, president of the Coal Association of Canada, said the mine was equipped with state-of-the-art safety technology, including air pumps allowing workers to dilute the deadly methane.

As well, Capobianco said in an interview, there were methane detectors throughout the mine. He said the fact that these appear not to have given any warning indicates that there might have been a sudden release of the gas.

The privately owned mine was built in 1990 to supply coal to the province’s power utility, Nova Scotia Power. In November, Toronto-based Curragh Resources announced it would sell the mine to raise cash for its other operations. It employs 225 people, including 101 miners.

The worst mine disaster in the region occurred in the Allan Shaft in Stellarton in 1918 when 88 miners were killed after an explosion. Sixty men died in the Drummond Colliery in Westville in 1872, and 44 people were killed in the Foord Pit in Stellarton in 1880.

Mining has declined in the area since the 1960s.

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