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Flooded mine could be idle for months

Rescue, cleanup costs could reach millions

Some of the equipment and the men who worked to rescue the trapped miners.
Some of the equipment and the men who worked to rescue the trapped miners.  

SOMERSET, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- It could be months before Pennsylvania's flooded Quecreek Mine is back in operation, and rescue and cleanup costs could reach $7 million, mine officials said Tuesday.

The mine flooded last week, trapping nine miners underground for more than three days before a dramatic rescue early Sunday. A couple of those miners are wondering whether they ever again want to put on their hard hats, pick up their lunch buckets and head back to their underground jobs.

Dave Rebuck, president of Black Wolf Coal Co., which operates the mine, told reporters near the mine entrance that it will take a couple of weeks to pump all of the water out of Quecreek. After that, he said, it will take more time for state and federal officials to investigate the site and do wide-ranging reviews of the incident.

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  •  Rescued miners go home
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  •  Pennsylvania panel to explore mining accident
  •  Flooded mine could be idle for months
  •  Pa. governor: Mine's operator 'owes answers'
  •  A turning point in the rescue effort
  •  Miners braved harrowing conditions
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  •  Gallery: The rescued miners
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  •  Graphic: Diagram of the Quecreek Mine
  •  Map: Mining accident
  •  Timeline: What happened, and when

Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker appointed a special commission to investigate the Quecreek accident. The state Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration are doing wide-ranging investigations, routine for all mine accidents. (Full story)

The total cost of the rescue and clean-up operation could range from $2 million to $7 million, said Timothy Phillips, marketing director for PBS Coals. The firm leases the Quecreek coal rights and hired Black Wolf Mining Co. to do the mining.

Overtime for trapped time

The miners who were trapped will get overtime pay for their time in the mine, mine owners told CNN. Rebuck said the miners also are eligible for workers' compensation and health insurance benefits.

Though the mine will be closed for weeks, he said, no worker has missed a paycheck, and there are no plans for layoffs.

While some of the nine rescued miners have said they do not plan to return to the mine, Rebuck said that a couple of them are hinting that they might go back to the job. Rebuck said he would not try to persuade them to go back to work if they weren't 100 percent sure they wanted to.

Weeks before breach can be examined

The miners' ordeal began late Wednesday night when a wall separating Quecreek from an adjacent, long-abandoned mine broke, sending more than 50 million gallons of water pouring into the Quecreek mine.

Badly drawn maps had led the miners to believe the flooded mine was hundreds of yards away. Three thousand feet from safety, the men tried but failed to make their way out before the water cut off their retreat and sent them running back into the coal mine. (Miners tell their story)

Speaking to reporters on a ridge not far from the mine entrance smack in the heart of southwestern Pennsylvania's bituminous coal country, Rebuck said federal and state officials are assessing the recovery phase of the operation.

The water level in the mine is being pumped down, and as it goes down, flooded ventilation and pumping systems are being restored, he said, adding that all of the electrical equipment of the mine was under water.

He said it will take a couple of weeks to pump all of the water out of Quecreek. When it is pumped out, officials will go to the spot where the mine breach occurred and try to determine what happened.

Rebuck said the map the miners were using showed that they were a few hundred feet from hitting the neighboring mine shaft, well outside the buffer zone between the mines.

PBS' Phillips said Quecreek got its mining permit in late 1999, and the mine opened in early 2000. He said it had been averaging about 45,000 tons of coal a month.

The coal is sold to power plants, and much of it had been used by generating stations near Johnstown and in Maryland near Washington, Phillips said. (Why we burn coal)

PBS is primarily a surface mining company, he said, but recently has been working three underground mines, including Quecreek. All of the mines are in Somerset County.




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