MONTCOAL, W.Va. – Rescue workers located four bodies deep in a West Virginia coal mine, dashing any faint hopes of finding more survivors of a deadly explosion that has claimed 29 lives, the worst U.S. mining disaster in a generation.
Officials announced the grim discovery at the Upper Big Branch Mine early today, after first notifying family members.
“We did not receive the miracle that we prayed for,” Gov. Joe Manchin said. “So this journey has ended and now the healing will start.”
Until late Friday, officials had held out a slim chance that four missing miners may have made it to an underground refuge chamber that held enough oxygen and water to survive for four days.
“None of the chambers had been deployed and none of our miners suffered,” Manchin said.
The death toll makes it the worst U.S. coal mining disaster since a 1970 explosion killed 38 in Hyden, Ky.
Earlier, federal mine safety administrator Kevin Stricklin had said there was no way anyone in the mine could have survived after the blast unless they were in a refuge shelter.
“There’s no way that life could be sustained in that type of atmosphere, even for a short period of time,” Stricklin said.
Rescuers had hoped the miners might have made it to the chamber stocked with food, water and enough oxygen for several days.
Officials say the mission now is to recover all 22 bodies still inside the Upper Big Branch mine 30 miles south of Charleston. Seven other bodies were recovered after the blast Monday and two other miners were injured.
The federal mine agency has appointed a team of investigators to look into the blast, which officials said may have been caused by a buildup of methane. President Barack Obama said he wants a report by next week.