Monday, August 20, 2007

Living Nightmare

I really just had to post this before I forgot. The miners in Utah in MY opinion have had the utmost and expedient care possible. We dealt with this before with the Sago Mine so I want to make the differences, from my research as clear as possible so no one thinks Im unfeeling or dismissive of the Utah crew. Before I go there I want to express my opinion about the reason why Mining disasters grab our attention so quickly and thoroughly. Being buried undergroud is a very common yet inexplicable fear for most everyone. So just the thought of it could leave some with a lingering sense of terror, absolute desperation. The 'what would I do??' thoughts.

Well now I hear the families are complaining that the rescuers had 'given up', that they were stealing their last shread of hope. There are some massive differences here so Id like to know what others think about it, what if that were YOU, what if that were your father, brother, husband, son?

In Sago
The explosion was caused by what miners know as methane ignitions, its a gas found in all mines and below the surface of the earth. Some in concentration, normally depending on the depth. The lower you go, the less oxygen concetrate. An explosion can also mean the release of deadly carbon monoxide. The miners who were trained on how to react did what they were taught. They built a barrier between them and the possible flow of poisonous gases. The settled down and tried to remain calm. They had lost communications with the surface on the explosion. 4 of the 12 emergency breathing apparatus failed so that the men below had to share their oxygen with others, possibly cutting down on their survival time. These men know that the gas concentration can be so strong that 10 seconds in it can cause a speedy death. (after 5 second you will lose motor control, fall down, thus elimnating chance of escape) Although apparently the gas concentration there wasnt staggering, it was enough to kill the older gentlemen, perhaps youth and health were the reason for the one survivor, Randall McCloy, who barely made it out alive. The entire disaster lasted 3 days, from explosion to location of the trapped miners. The miners, 11 dead and one alive 41 hours later were found. I highly doubt without the erection of the barrier if even McCloy would have survived. The explosion itself wasnt reported in the required MSHA 15 minutes as it was supposed to be. Rescue teams didnt enter the mines until 11 hours later. Equipment these men trusted their lives to failed them in their time of need. This entire story here tells me that were I a family member or a miner in that hole, yes I would have indeed been pissed at the way this disaster was handled, from safety to the late report of the explosion. Remember now, 41 hours, 11 dead, 1 alive but requiring months, perhaps years of rehabilitation. The saddest part, the part that isnt advertised a whole lot, is that had these miners had communications from the outside, all 12, even with being shorted on their respirators, could have simply walked out. There was no blockage to stop them. Communication would have made it that simple. Man-made failure, not mother nature.

In Utah
I was seriously impressed with the reaction time to the 6 being lost in the shift caused by these mountains, far younger then the appalachains the WVA miners work in, that are not as stable and much more prone to shifting as they sit on a tetonic plate referred to by experts as somewhat of a cork bobbing on water. Safe, yet not quite. Of course, even I laughed when Murray kept claiming that it was an earthquake that caused the cave in and not vice versa. In my opinion that conversation would be limited to the hours after the miners were brought up, dead or alive. We dont care what caused it, we just want them back. Time is the enemy in a mine rescue, everything has to go just right and then you have to rely on a healthy helping of luck. The depth of the Sago miners had almost everything to do with the quickness of rescue as well as the survival of the one miner. When the Sago miners went to work they went two miles in, not deep. They were working within a deep system of mountains that allowed them to go in further as opposed to having to dig down. With the miners being about 2 miles IN at Sago and the Utah miners being about 1 mile down there is a significant difference in the way to rescue as well as the possibility of it. With mines its easy to understand that new mountains or old mountains, the more you mine, the deeper you dig, the more risk you are creating for the mountain to have to settle.

Almost from the point of the tremor in Utah that trapped the 6, rescue operations began. They began drilling holes from the top down, through nearly a mile of rock, as well as burrowing through the collapse to reach them directly. The chances are just not the same with these miners being down for so very long, so very deep, when the Sago mine tells us that those two factors were the only reason we pulled one out still alive. When rescuers, who are really just for the most part the same miners, with a little MSHA professional disaster help, are dying to get to people whose chances of survival at this point are very very slim, then Im sorry, I mean that, I am deeply sorry but its time to stop. We dont throw live bodies at dead ones just to give them a funeral, just to gain closure for the original six's familys, only to create more sorrow, more missing daddys, we just cant.

I think this recent disaster in Utah brought a couple of things to my plate. To begin with in those first few days I prayed, something I havent done since I can remember. Really prayed, really hoped someone would hear. I wanted a god or a creator to pull those men out safe and sound, or I wanted to know they went peacefully, I wanted them to have, as sad as it may be, drifted off into the peaceful sleep of oxygen deprivation, as opposed to cowering below a mile of rock waiting to die.

One thing people have to stop doing is running on some natural assumption that these 'poor miners' dont know whats going on until the disaster occurs. That the money they make isnt worth the risk. No one on earth knows this more then the miners themselves. They take these jobs because where they live its the alternative to the minimum wage jobs of fast food and production. They take these 25+ dollars an hour jobs to support their families and still have time left to spend with them. They know the rules, they know the more they dig the more there is a chance of disaster. No one is holding them there, no one makes them go in kicking and screaming. And when moderated and supervised this country has the ability to make the miners in the USA the safest miners in the world with our technology and knowledge, things not available to other countrys.

By mid year 2006 West Va, one of the biggest mining states, had lost approximately 20 miners. In 2006 in China, the offical poll was that around 5,000 miners had perished in mines all over their country. Unoffical polls who are run by human interest groups say the real number in which actual deaths are covered up and paid off, is far closer to 20,000 a year then 5,000.

If that doesnt prove we have the technology and are willing to actually USE it to save the lives of our fellow countrymen, then I am not sure what does.

Of course, and most likely just like those Utah families I sincerely hope that they will find some very lucky, miraculously lucky miners hidden away down there in a pocket of air. Its just that the chance of that is slimmer then survival in a lot of other types of disasters. And my sympathys will be with those families if they do not. But I really dont want to hear about how they are angry the rescue operation was given up inside the tunnels. I dont want to see more miners die at such a slim chance of hope at this point. People who are selfless, anyone who has lost someone to a tragedy or a disaster of this nature, they usually will agree too. If this happened to my father, and he was found dead and entombed months later, which is likely to be the case in Utah, I wouldnt want to know that I had urged even ONE person to their death because of my loss.

I hope they try to find peace. Until then there remains hope, just slimmer then most.


A Cats Eye View On the World said...

Your right, if it were my dad, brother or husband, I couldnt ask someone to risk their life knowing that my loved one is probably dead. These people know the risks involved, and so do their loved ones. Good story...damn good writing too!!

Kuan said...

The funny thing about death is the extreme difficulty in letting go of our tangible need for these people in our lives, and that because of this strong tangible need we become selfish and our thoughts are only of "I'm loosing some one I love", "why won't you do any thing to help", they only see the self, not the "big" picture. It is tragic that any one has to endure a death such as that but to be angry because some one has the foresight to say "enough" We can't bring more death here today.
But we all know that in Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's 5 stages of death we have to process we all go through:
Shock stage: Initial paralysis at hearing the bad news.

Denial stage: Trying to avoid the inevitable.
Anger stage: Frustrated outpouring of bottled-up emotion.
Bargaining stage: Seeking in vain for a way out.
Depression stage: Final realization of the inevitable.
Testing stage: Seeking realistic solutions.
Acceptance stage: Finally finding the way forward.
These sorrow struck individuals will heal it takes time, a long time.
But I really think that throwing deat at life is not the answer here.
Well written Joy, well said.