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13 West Virginia Coal Miners Trapped Underground; Firefighters Battle Grass Fires in Oklahoma and Texas

Aired January 2, 2006 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. Thank you much for joining us, as we start off the new year here.
There's an awful lot going on. And before we go in depth with live reports on each of this hour's developing stories, here is the very latest on all of them.

First, in West Virginia, we're waiting for word on the fate of 13 coal miners. They haven't been heard from since an explosion trapped them earlier this morning. A rescue team is in the mine right now. The minute they report back, we will let you know what they have to say.

Next, Oklahoma and Texas -- people are wondering how many more of their neighbors' homes or their own will look like this in the morning. Wildfires pushed by dry, gusty winds are burning as we speak. They have destroyed dozens of homes over the past two days. We will have the very latest.

On the West Coast, the problem isn't fire. It is slick roads, flooding and enormous mudslides. Rescuers say a woman was alive when they pulled her out of this submerged car in Long Beach. But, unfortunately, just within the past hour, we have gotten word that she died.

Storm after storm is hitting the West Coast, and the conditions are just plain awful. That's the big picture.

Now I want to get specific, starting in West Virginia, where a rescue crew is desperately trying to reach 13 miners trapped some two miles from the entrance to a coal mine. It's been a long, agonizing wait outside the Sago mine in Upshur County, West Virginia. The explosion happened about 6:00 this morning, and as the first shift of miners was going in after the holiday weekend. Six miners made it out of the mine alive.


STEVE MILLIGAN, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, UPSHUR COUNTY, WEST VIRGINIA, OFFICE OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Initially, there was four miners went back in, and they came upon a -- a wall of debris and were not able to contact the miners. And...


ZAHN: That mine has a single entrance. The explosion happened about two miles from its mouth and 260 feet below the surface. The families of the trapped miners are gathered at a Baptist church, waiting together for any news.

Five rescue crews were also assembled, but none of them could start until just a few hours ago because of some of the poisonous explosive gases that have been released as a result of the initial fire.

Brian Todd joins me now from the scene in Upshur County, West Virginia.

Brian, any news at all on this rescue mission?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, here's what we know at this hour.

Thirteen miners remain trapped inside this mine that is probably a little less than a mile up the road from where I'm standing. There is a second rescue team that is in the mine now that has apparently relieved the first team, which has apparently come out just a short time ago.

These teams have been in for a couple of hours now, at least -- a little unclear as to when the first team went in. But what we know now is that there has been no contact with any of the miners trapped inside. They are trying to establish some kind of contact.

And what we're told by family members who have been briefed by the company and by members of the emergency rescue teams here is that, at this hour, possibly right about now, they are going to begin drilling at least one small hole through the mine, or through the debris wall that has blocked off the mine, try to, number one, establish contact, also to try to get some air in there and try to check for the quality of air that is in there.

So, that operation, we are told, is starting right about now at this hour. The -- the -- the type of drill, we're told, it's -- it's a large drill, one drill. And it will drill either one small hole, or several small holes, again, to check the quality of air inside , to try to pump some air inside and to put some kind of a microphone or other device that will hopefully give them some indication of whether anyone is in there and can respond.

Again, there's a second crew that we are told is in there now that has just relieved the first rescue team that is there. Five rescue crews total are on site. One is from the county, Upshur County, West Virginia. One is from the state. Three are from a private mining rescue group.

We are told that a sixth crew from Illinois is on the way. There are two forms of communication that apparently are used. I'm not sure exactly what those are. It might be the microphone that we're talking about, two forms of communication that are used to try to establish contact with the crew. Apparently, both of those have not been operational for at least a couple of hours. Now, we're told that the miners are trained to bang on whatever wall they can find, where they can try to get some indication of where the outside world is, to bang on that every 15 minutes to try to establish contact with the outside -- but, again, as of this hour, no contact with the crews inside that mine. A second rescue team is in there right now. We hope to get some more information soon -- Paula.

ZAHN: Brian Todd, thank you much -- so much -- for that update.

I want to reiterate some of what Brian is reporting, because some of the information has been flowing into us tonight has been often contradictory. I think this is the clearest report we have gotten so far, that, in fact, one of the rescue teams has gone in and come out. A second team is in. Apparently, they have a two-fold mission.

One is to drill a hole from above the point where they believe that the miners are trapped. That hole apparently goes down some 260 feet. They are trying to pump good air through that hole. In addition to that, they're going to try to drop some kind of microphone down into the hole -- apparently, according to Brian Todd, a limited, if -- if no communication at all between the rescue workers and folks on the ground.

And I think what is disturbing for any of us who have followed this story throughout the day is the fact that miners are trained to bang on the walls where they are trapped every 15 minutes. And from what we know right now, there has been no communication at all since 6:00 this morning, when this explosion happened.

Joining me right now is Judy Shackelford, whose brother Terry Helms is a miner who is trapped inside.

Judy, I know this has been an agonizing day for us.

How -- how much information have you been given about your brother and the fate of those trapped inside?

JUDY SHACKELFORD, SISTER OF TRAPPED MINER: Well, right now, we know that my brother Terry was the first one in the mines early this morning.

And we know that they have got, I think, fresh air going down to them, just about the kind of air I'm breathing right now, which is real good. And, as far as the rest, we don't know. We haven't heard anything else.

ZAHN: How long has Terry been working at this mine, Judy?

SHACKELFORD: Well, I think he's been here at this particular mine for about six months.

ZAHN: And did he ever express to you any fears of -- of working in this mine?

SHACKELFORD: Well, some, but, you know, any mine has their dangers. And, a lot of times, you know, he said -- he's told me how, you know, you wade in the water, and you hear things cracking up in the mines, and different things. I think any mine is -- you know, you hear that.

ZAHN: We have been showing pictures of the Baptist church all day long where family members have been gathering. Describe to us what is...


SHACKELFORD: ... I can't hear.

ZAHN: Judy, can you hear me now?

SHACKELFORD: OK. Hold on. I can't hear you.

ZAHN: OK. We're going to try to make an adjustment with the volume level.

Please understand that, as this story is breaking live, sometimes, keeping the communications going is a bit of a challenge. But you just heard Judy explain that her brother Terry has worked for a short time at this mine, but we understand from some of the other reporting done that the majority of the other men who are now trapped inside, in many cases, have decades of experience.

Judy, let me try again.

We have been showing pictures of the Baptist church where family members are gathered. Describe to us what that scene has been like, as all of you have waited for any kind of word from authorities there.

SHACKELFORD: Well, I tell you, there's -- there's tons of people waiting here.

And people are in huddles. And the church up here has been -- they have brought in food. Right now, the governor of West Virginia is up there talking to the people. And he said, come down here. We are -- we're waiting by the roads. We are not leaving until my brother comes out of there, one way or the other.


ZAHN: Has the governor been...


SHACKELFORD: More or less, it's quiet.

ZAHN: Yes. Has the...


SHACKELFORD: Well, he's at the church right now.

ZAHN: Oh, he is. OK.

And -- and the governor has been pretty reassuring to all of you?

SHACKELFORD: Well, yes, I would assume.

We can't get near the church, there's so many people, but he will be down here shortly, where I'm at.

ZAHN: Are you still hopeful at this hour?

SHACKELFORD: Yes. Oh, yes.

We're hopeful. We're just praying that he will get out of there. If he's got broken bones, we don't care. We want him out of there and get him better.

ZAHN: Well, the whole country is praying for him, as well as the others who are trapped there tonight.

Judy Shackelford, thank you for taking time out to be with us.


ZAHN: And good luck to you and your family.

Please stay with us. We are going to be going back to Brian Todd throughout the hour. He's our man on the scene, where there was this mining disaster earlier today. And we will break in just as soon as any word comes from the second rescue team that is inside the mine at this hour or from the first team that has just come out. We have gotten no word yet from them.

But our next stop is the central U.S., where dozens of homes in Texas and Oklahoma have gone up in fire and smoke. And everyone is worried about what tomorrow might bring.


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Betty Nguyen in Napa, California, where the floodwaters are receding, but the cleanup is far from over.

That's next on PAULA ZAHN NOW.



ZAHN: Back now to our developing story.

Tonight, 13 miners still trapped in a coal mine.

Tonight, let's quickly go to reporter Zoe Ludski of WDNE Radio, who has been at the scene all day.

Zoe, thanks so much for being with us tonight. Have we heard anything back yet from this first rescue team that has gone into the mine and come out?

ZOE LUDSKI, WDNE RADIO REPORTER: In fact, the first rescue team has come out. They are sending the third rescue team at this time -- no word from those crews on the condition.

Apparently, Governor Joe Manchin has arrived, along with Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito. They say air conditions are bad. They are currently at the Sago Baptist Church, just up the road from where I'm standing, and consoling family members, very upset. This has been a long day and a trying day.

ZAHN: We just spoke with Judy Shackelford, whose brother, Terry Helms, is trapped inside. And she actually described a scene where there are long waits of -- periods of time where they have to wait for information. But they all seem to be reasonably hopeful at this hour. What is your sense, as you have watched these families all day long?

LUDSKI: The families have been very hopeful all day.

You are seeing some signs of wear and certainly some tears at this time. When Joe -- Governor Joe Manchin arrived, definitely, some tears came to the eyes as he consoled family members. I -- I am sensing that people are tired. And, certainly, this very small community is being overrun by people right now.

ZAHN: Shelley, describe to us your understanding of what this third rescue team is attempting right now -- Brian Todd mentioning at the top of the hour that a couple of holes have been drilled, one to allow some fresh air to perhaps get to the miners, the second within to drop some communication system down to try to establish contact, not only with the rescue team, but the miners as well.

What else can you tell us about exactly what's going on at this hour?

LUDSKI: At 5:00, we were told that a mobile drilling unit was -- was going in and going to drill a hole for air quality control. They felt, at that time, they would be able to slip down some listening devices, hear what they could hear -- no word yet.

There is apparently a press conference supposed to be held any moment now. Hopefully, they will have some updates. However, these press conferences typically have not yielded much new information. There is a history, apparently, according to the last press conference, of roof collapse at this mine in the past. I don't have a date on that incident for you, though.

ZAHN: And is there any better understanding at this hour what the risks are entailed in sending rescue teams down to this -- particularly this -- where there is this wall of debris?

LUDSKI: What I have been told so far is that they cannot use any equipment. They have to do this by hand. And we're really not sure the extent of the rubble or debris in the mine site, so we're not sure how long that's going to take. We have also been told that, typically, miners are trained that, in an incident like this, they need to find the safest area and barricade themselves in and wait for a rescue crew. You can only imagine that that's what these people are doing at this time.

ZAHN: But we also understand that they are trained to try to attempt to communicate every 15 minutes by banging on a -- a wall.

There has been absolutely no communications, have there, since the time of the explosion?

LUDSKI: There -- no, absolutely no communication.

Apparently, there are two sorts of communications into a mine site. Both are -- are not operating. And they -- they refuse to speculate on why at this time.

ZAHN: Zoe, also, there has been some confusion about the kind of gases that been -- may have been emitted as a result of the initial explosion. Can you walk us through your understanding of that?

LUDSKI: Absolutely.

Roger Nicholson, who is the -- the general counsel for the International Coal Group, has said that it is carbon monoxide. And they have also stated, again, at the last press conference, that gas emissions were down. And they were hopeful about that. But, again, it was carbon monoxide.

We had asked about methane or natural gas. They said no, definitely not, but, again, carbon monoxide.

ZAHN: And can you confirm whether these miners who are trapped tonight went in with eight hours worth of supplies? That would include food -- food, in addition to perhaps the ability to -- to get some fresh air flow, if -- if not carrying oxygen altogether?

LUDSKI: The report on that is, again, from Roger Nicholson.

He says that miners go in with -- for an eight-hour shift with their lunch box and some water. And every miner, apparently, carries a -- a self-rescue kit is what they call them. And that has one-hour of oxygen supply. Now, we also had heard that there was air circulating. That was much earlier today, that there was fresh air circulating. They will not confirm that any more at this stage.

ZAHN: All right.

So, let's just go back and review a little bit of what you have reported, Zoe. You now believe that the third rescue team has gone under ground. We have not gotten anything confirmed with the first two that have come in and out. But five teams in all have been assembled to aid in this rescue, correct?

LUDSKI: That's true, five teams.

And I have heard that two others were en route. And that included one from Illinois.

ZAHN: And these are incredibly well qualified folks that we're talking about here.

LUDSKI: I am -- I am told -- I am told by miners that the three groups from Consol, which is a -- a group out of the -- northern West Virginia, is, in fact, the best of the best in -- in rescue operations.


ZAHN: Zoe, we're going to keep you on standby here.

And, before I let you go, maybe you can help us better understand this. We were waiting for a news conference to get under way about 15 minutes ago. That has not started yet. Have you been given any word on what might be delaying that and when that might happen in this hour?

LUDSKI: I haven't.

But the last time there was a press conference, again, scheduled at 5:00, it didn't happen until about 5:30. And that was because they were waiting for a fax. We do have reporters at the press conference site, which is located about a mile up the road from where I'm now standing. And we have sort of split the team, as it were, to keep an eye on what's happening here and the family members and the rescue operation.

And we have another group of reporters up at the press conference site.

ZAHN: Zoe Ludski, thank you for bringing us up to date on all of this and helping us sift through often contradictory information. We will come back to you a little bit later on in this hour.

And, before we go to the break, we want to remind you that we will go straight to that news conference when it happens.

And -- and, once again, we just want to reiterate the difficulty of what is going on at that mine at this hour. A couple of drills -- holes have been -- or holes have been drilled into the ground. This rescue team, this third team, we're told, that has gone underground now, trying to go down 260 feet deep, where they believe these miners are trapped. They are trying to drop communication systems in, as well as get some fresh air to these miners, where they are reasonably sure are trapped in this very specific part of the mine.

We will have the very latest for you, as the information keeps coming to us.

Please stay with us. We will be right back with more.


ZAHN: And we are back now, awaiting any word from the rescue crew. This is the third crew that has gone inside that mine in West Virginia, hoping to find any signs of life of the 13 miners trapped there. They have been trapped for almost 14 hours now, since an explosion earlier today.

In the meantime, though, there's another important story developing across Texas and Oklahoma. As we speak, helicopters and tankers, planes are in action trying to help crews bring devastating grass fires from control -- being out of control -- so far, in Oklahoma alone, a couple hundred thousand acres of land burned.

Let's turn to Jonathan Freed, who has the very latest of what is at stake here.


JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's only the second day of the new year, and Howard Lusk and his wife, Deborah (ph), need a new home.

Lusk and his brother built this one themselves on the outskirts of Oklahoma City. It took eight years. Last night, the Lusks had less than 10 minutes, from the time they smelled smoke, to get out for good.

HOWARD LUSK, OKLAHOMA CITY HOMEOWNER: Before we can really get in the truck, the heat hit us, and we could just see the -- the fire coming -- you know, we are up on a hill. They was, like, 30 feet high, flames coming at us and heat. And -- and we said, let's go. So, we jumped in the truck and we drove through the fire, and it was all over us, and drove on out.

FREED: Oklahoma's fire season usually begins in February and ends in April. It's been so dry that wildfires started burning last June and just kept getting worse. Since November, fires in Oklahoma have consumed 285,000 acres and destroyed some 200 buildings. And the outlook is for more dry, windy weather.

The same goes for neighboring Texas, where those white clouds on the horizon today aren't rain clouds. They are smoke from more wildfires in this state. This is in Eastland County, about 130 miles west of Dallas. Crews here are battling a wildfire that stretched for 35 miles, at times, burning a swathe that's three miles wide.

Texas Governor Rick Perry toured the fire lines this afternoon.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: It's relatively contained at this particular point in time. But, as the conditions deteriorate and we get...


ZAHN: OK, we break out of this to go straight to that news conference we have been waiting for at the Sago mine in West Virginia. Let's listen in.


ROGER NICHOLSON, GENERAL COUNSEL, INTERNATIONAL COAL GROUP: As of 6:23 p.m., the first team was 1,000 feet into the mine, where carbon monoxide and methane levels were in the normal range.

The second team has, thus far, made it in also about 1,000 feet. So, the other -- the first team would at least be at least 500 feet beyond that by this time. That's the status of the mine rescue teams.

The -- there have been a number of questions about the drill rig. The drill rig is on site. It -- we had to drill rig with two D-6 dozers. We are accessing the appropriate site for drilling. That is in steep mountainous terrain. We had to construct an access road and do site preparation for the drill rig.

We anticipate the drilling will begin at 9:00 p.m. The last thing that we are waiting on is survey work to triangulate the -- the drill site, to make sure that it is -- that they are drilling in the correct place. Again, that is an air hole for air quality monitoring. That -- that process should begin at around 9:00 p.m. And, once the drilling begins, they anticipate that it will take four to six hours to drill to the coal scene.

We also wanted to give a brief explanation of the timeline concerning the events. At 6:31 a.m. this morning, the power went out at the mine. Shortly thereafter, at about 6:40 p.m., the surface received a call from the 1 Left section that indicated that they had lost power and that something had happened and that they were leaving the mine.

At that time, our mine superintendent began heading underground to investigate. He also -- as he was underground, he told the dispatcher to begin the notification process. After communications with the mine superintendent from underground, within a few minutes after going underground, we began to understand that something serious had happened.

And, immediately, efforts began to contact MSHA and the state regulatory agencies, in accordance with our -- our process. Other than that, I don't really have any additional information at this time.

I -- I will note that the -- the governor is on site and is at the church meeting with the families currently, and -- and, presumably, will be down there to speak with members of the press at that time.

QUESTION: Roger, you said that the rescue team had made it in 1,000 feet as of last communication? Did I hear that right?

NICHOLSON: The second rescue team had made it in 1,000 feet as of last communication. The first rescue team was at 1,000 feet at approximately 6:30. (CROSSTALK)

NICHOLSON: And, so, therefore, they would be in advance of the second rescue team, obviously.

QUESTION: And you have lost communications with them?


QUESTION: Do you know how far they are now?

NICHOLSON: No, I do not. I'm giving you an estimate.


QUESTION: ... you have no communications with them?

NICHOLSON: We have communications. I'm updating you with the information that I have.

QUESTION: Oh, I see.

QUESTION: How do you communicate with them?

GENE KITTS, INTERNATIONAL COAL GROUP: There's a mine phone system. It's basically a -- a cable that's attached to a phone.

And it runs from the -- from the mine office underground to the operating sections. The manner in which the mine rescue teams advance underground and maintain communication is, they will go 500 feet. At that point, they will cut the mine phone line and check for the atmosphere to make sure there's no explosive gases. Then they hook a mine phone that they will carry with them to the line and establish communication with the outside.

When they advance the next 500 feet, they will essentially do the same thing. They will disconnect their phone, disconnect those cables. They will move ahead 500 feet, cut the line again, check the atmosphere, and then a person left behind at the first 500-foot cut will splice that wire together. They will hook up their phone and establish communication again.

It's a very slow process, very careful process. We don't want to be energizing anything if it's in an atmosphere that has combustible gases. So the mine rescue teams will stay in near constant contact with the regulators and those who are managing this rescue effort on the surface.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gene, what are they finding the mine rescue teams? Are they finding rubble? Is the way clear?

KITTS: At the distance of roughly 1,500 feet, to my knowledge, there's not been any reports of any type of debris or rubble.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gene, was the fact that they went that far in and there's still good air, what does that tell you? I mean, does it tell you anything?

KITTS: It really doesn't tell us anything until they can get in to the area where we expect some damage to the ventilation controls. If the air that the fan is blowing underground is simply circling, short circuiting, before it reaches the damaged area it really won't tell us anything. It's good, in essence, that the mine rescue teams are able to...

ZAHN: All right. For those of you with us, we are really trying to sift through some really contradictory information. Thankfully, in this news conference we've heard from some folks representing the International Coal Group, ICG, and we have to go with what they are telling us, which is quite a bit different from what we have learned a little bit earlier on in the hour.

Apparently there are five rescue teams assembled. Two, contrary to what we heard at the top of the hour, are still underground. One team apparently about 500 feet further than the other.

You can't read too much into what we're being told about those teams finding that the carbon monoxide levels and methane levels are at a normal range because as this official just told us it doesn't tell you anything about what the levels might be at the place where the ventilation controls were in some way compromised, perhaps through an explosion earlier today.

But the bottom line is tonight at this hour, there are some 13 miners trapped underground. We believe 260 feet under the ground. A couple of holes have been driven. One to aid in communicating perhaps not only with the rescue workers, but with some of those trapped miners. The other to allow for fresh ventilation underground.

Once again, there hasn't been a whole lot of specific information coming to us from officials. This is the best timeline we've been given since the start of this report of this early explosion today.

But once again, we are reminded that this could be a very slow, painstaking process, even to establish communication with the rescue teams. But two teams currently underground trying to aid in the rescue of 13 miners trapped underground in West Virginia at this hour.

We will hope to have more for you right after this break. Because the information just keeps on coming in. Please stay with us.


ZAHN: And we are back, and, as I join you tonight, 13 miners still trapped in a mine in West Virginia. Two rescue teams underground right now trying to make it to the point at which they believe and explosion started this whole scare.

We are trying to stay on top of this developing story, but you do need to understand that we are only as good as some of the information we are given. And we have just had our second official news conference of the day. This one just moments ago where some of this confusion is being cleared up. Initially, we understood that some holes had already been drilled to pass down a microphone to establish a better communication system underground and perhaps to provide some ventilation underground. Now we understand, as has just been confirmed by some of the officials, this will not get underway until the top of the hour.

Let's turn to Brian Todd, who is our man on the ground in Buckhannon, West Virginia.

And Brian, you know this as well as anybody because this information has changed quite dramatically. Walk us through what we believe is happening underground. The officials confirming that one team underground has perhaps gone 500 feet further than the other so maybe they have gotten 1,500 feet altogether.

TODD: That's what we know now, Paula. And if they have gotten about 1,500 feet altogether that means they still have at least a few thousand feet to go. We were told initially that the fact that it happened between four and 6,000 feet into the ground. So they are 1,500 feet in. They have got a ways to go from what we know.

But, as you mentioned, the information does keep changing. We were also told that the drilling has begun. Now told, as you mentioned, the drilling won't begin for another 20 minutes or so.

Two teams underground now. Five total rescue teams on site. We are told that there is a sixth one coming from out of state. And now what they will try to do is try to drill at least one hole and possibly more to try to get air inside, but also to try to gage the quality of the air inside.

There is a danger of carbon monoxide poisoning in the air in there. If there was a fire that's what would have caused the carbon monoxide to spread inside there. All sorts of questions now about the gases in the mine. And that's what we were told was one of the reasons that it took so long to get rescue crews in there.

I mean, they didn't get into the mine until--the first crew didn't go in until, I think, close to 11 hours after this incident first happened. So the question of gases is also important. We are told that it took several hours to clear up the methane gas that was present at least in some parts of the mine. There are other gases that are apparently present, as well. And that has complicated rescue efforts.

So that we know now, at 6:31 a.m. this morning the power went out inside the mine. We were told that it went out at 7:30, but an hour later is when the first express call came.

I have been told by two different sources, one a family member and one an emergency official, that the first crew that went in, that's the crew that has been trapped, they went in early this morning to be followed by a second crew of miners.

Well, the second crew was about to go in when they heard the explosion, went further in to investigate, were blocked off by a debris wall and then came out. So they were the ones who apparently reported the incident first.

But the bottom line, we know now 13 members still trapped. No contact has been made with them. Drilling is about to begin in a few minutes where they care going to try to put some air in there, gauge the quality of air in there. And they are also going to try to bring in some microphones and some cables to try to hear any verbal or other contact with these men.

ZAHN: And Brian describe to us what you have been told about what the training has taught these miners to do if they get into a very dangerous situation like this?

TODD: What we are told is that they are told to try to find some kind of a hollowed out part of the wall where they are trapped to indicate that there is some, you know, maybe outlet to the outside world somewhere, and to bang on that wall every few minutes. We're told every 15 minutes. I mean, it's probably variable if they are able to bang on it, how often they are banging on it. So that's one thing that we're told.

We're also told that whatever oxygen they bring in, they obviously have sparing use of it. Have to share it with one another. So these are techniques that these miners are taught, and we'll be finding out more about that as well, and some of the other techniques they are taught.

They all do bring in food with them, because they are there for several hours. I talked to the brother of the gentleman who is known as the fire boss. The fire boss, his name is Terry Helms. He's trapped in there. His job is to search for gas. I talked to his brother.

His brother says that his brother Terry, who's in there now, works 12-hour shifts. He goes in and he works three days a week. So they're there for a long time. And his brother was going in this morning to check for some gases and he was supposed to come right out and let the rest of the crew go in there and do their 12-hour shift. And his brother got caught in there when that explosion happened, Paula.

ZAHN: Brian, please stand by because I'd love you to listen to part of the news conference you might have missed when you were coming out to report to us, and that was Roger Nicholson, the International Coal Group.

Confirming the fact that when you look at what these two teams have reported back so far, are what appear to be normal carbon monoxide and normal methane levels, but basically I think he was alerting us not to get too excited because they are not at the point where the ventilation control system seems to be damaged. Could you help us better understand that?

TODD: I don't know much about the ventilation system and how much carbon monoxide and methane gas levels that they're dealing with right now. We're trying to get that information as well. But it is a situation where before they drill these holes in, I guess to gauge all of that. And what we're told is that the methane level has to be at one percent in there or less for people to be functional. So that's probably what they are trying to find out right now when they begin drilling.

ZAHN: Brian Todd, please stand by. Thanks for sifting through all this information for us tonight. And once again, thank you all for your patience tonight. You do understand we want to be as responsible as we can be from here.

But unfortunately our reporters on the ground are being told by two sources, because that's the only time we go with information certain facts, some of which have been contradicted by that news conference, what we just heard. But bottom line, a rescue operation is underway. Two teams underground. In about 17 minutes from now, some holes will be drilled at ground level.

Apparently one to aid in getting communication systems down to the rescue workers and perhaps the miners and one to provide for some ventilation underground. Once again, miners now trapped for over 14 a half an hours -- 14 and a half hours, that is, at the Sago Mines in West Virginia. We'll be back with the latest information right after the short break. Please stay with us.



ROGER NICHOLSON, GENERAL COUNSEL, ICG: It's dark. It's roughly 55 degrees, and the height is somewhere in the five to five a half feet. It's not, you know, a really low coal scene. The working conditions should be relatively good for the mine rescue teams.


ZAHN: That's the very latest from the officials in charge of this very dicey rescue operation at the Sago Mine in West Virginia, 13 miners still trapped at this hour. We believe some 260 feet under the ground.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration has now sent a rescue robot to the mine. Joining me now, a specialist in rescue technology. Robin Murphy is director of the Institute for Safety Security Rescue Technology. Thanks so much for being with us tonight. Robin, what can this robot do that humans can't?

ROBIN MURPHY, INSTITUTE FOR SAFETY SECURITY RESCUE TECHNOLOGY: Robots don't replace people. They are really best used when they can go beyond what a person can do. Go into places that they can't get to. Think of those small pipes, being able to lower a robot through there. Now the robots can be the eyes, the ears, the nose, checking those environmental conditions, for the rescuers.

ZAHN: Have you been given any indication of -- that one of these will be deployed anytime soon?

MURPHY: We've been checking around. We don't know of any of the robots, particularly which one is there or if any of the robots will be deployed. Carnegie Mellon has done a great deal of work in making robots that will fit into these small shafts and go down, look around, give the mining engineers a chance to see what the structure looks like. Give the environmentalists a chance to see what the air quality is and then to look for survivors.

They did that in the aftermath of the Quecreek disaster in Somerset, Pennsylvania. We've been work with the Australian group Simtars to develop similar devices as well.

ZAHN: Robin, I don't know how much of this news conference you could just listen to, but I'm going to repeat some of it so maybe you can give us a better understanding of what we are dealing with at this hour. As you know, whenever something like this happens, there is a great deal of uncertainty and sometimes facts being tossed around by sources don't end up being true.

But we've been given the best account now by officials who say two teams are underground. They believe that one team is 500 feet further than the other and so far at 1,500 feet from the mouth of this opening to the mine, they have detected nothing but normal ranges of methane and carbon monoxide. What does that indicate to you?

MURPHY: Well, it indicates that they are being very cautious as they need to be. One of the things you worry about using a robot, particularly the bigger ones that are about the size of a locker, a small, you know, foot locker, that you see, they can set off a spark. So these will often carry with them a gas detector to say whether it's explosive gas or if there's enough air for a person to breathe. But you don't want that to be the device that accidentally sets off an explosion that may make matters worse.

ZAHN: And Robin, we just heard much attention being paid to that when we were getting a description of what it takes to actually set up a communications system with a rescue team underground and obviously not wanting to provide any kind of spark to combustible gases. This is a pretty dicey situation going on right now, isn't it?

MURPHY: It is a very dicey situation and one where it's always a challenge for technology to be able and be truly useful. You've got wireless communications, the abilities to have beacons. You can imagine a robot going in and dropping off little repeaters to help speed that process up. But you've also got to balance the size of the robot, how heavy it is, can you get it in there, and whether it will make matters worse in the long run.

ZAHN: And Robin Murphy, we appreciate your insights tonight. And just a reminder, we know that a robot has been dispatched to the scene. We also know two teams currently are underground trying to make it to the miners or perhaps at least to the point where some kind of an explosion was caused earlier today. Three more teams ready to go.

We're told by Brian Todd, our man on the ground, that an additional team is also being sent in from out of state to aid in this rescue effort. We're going to go back to West Virginia in just a moment and get the very latest on that bizarre weather in California. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: And we are keeping a very close watch on the fate of 13 West Virginia coal miners trapped after an explosion this morning. Rescue operations now under way. As soon as we have more information, we'll bring it to you.

Many of the families have gathered at this Baptist church across from the mine. Two teams are underground right now. They've gone as far as 1,500 feet. So far, finding normal levels of methane gas and carbon monoxide, which we can't read too much into, we're told, because that's very far away from the point where the ventilation system was compromised.

Right now the deadly winter weather in northern California is also a big story. The drenching rain finally let up tonight but they are looking at a watery $100 million mess after two powerful winter storms swept through killing two people.

In places like Napa, hundreds of homes and businesses were flooded. People spent the day trying to sweep out some of the mud. And over the weekend, just look how miserable it was. Whole communities under four feet or more of water.

It is especially bad just north of San Francisco in Marin county where the city was San Anslemo was inundated, causing $40 million in damage there alone.

Meteorologist Rob Marciano joins me with the very latest. How do things look where you've been out and about today, Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Huge cleanup task as you would imagine. We're on the main street here in San Anselmo where, as mentioned, four feet of water once covered where I'm standing. And even tonight the back hoes, Bobcats and front loaders are cleaning up the messes that were once in the store owners -- in the stores here that lined this quaint community of about 12,000 people just north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County.

Governor Schwarzenegger has issued a state of emergency for seven counties across California just on the heels of a series of storms that slammed into the West Coast during the holiday week.

Since Christmas Eve, some parts of this state, especially in the northern hills have seen up to three feet of rain. That would be typically 12 maybe 15 feet of snow at the higher elevations. But it's been a pretty warm storm. Snow levels have been high. None of the moisture has been held up in the form of snow.

The good news with today's storm is that it's slightly colder, the snow levels have dropped. Mammoth Mountain has seen 50 inches of snow in the past 24 hours. The storm track will be heading north. The rains and flooding situation here in northern California, Paula, will be coming to an end. The cleanup continues. Back to you.

ZAHN: You can hear it, you can see it. Too bad. But glad to hear they'll get some break now with this latest weather pattern.

In just a moment we're going to go straight back to our big developing story tonight in West Virginia, where 13 miners remain trapped after a coal mine explosion. And rescuers are urgently trying to free them. Two crews underground as I speak trying to get to them.


ZAHN: We have more now on the breaking news out of West Virginia tonight. The urgent efforts to rescue 13 coal miners trapped after an explosion in West Virginia.

They are believed to be about 260 feet below the earth's surface here. Rescue teams have been trying to get to them for the last three hours or so. In a couple of minutes they are going to start a special kind of drilling that they hope will aid in communicating with rescue workers and the miners and maybe getting fresh air down there.

Joining me is Amber Helms, whose father is one of those trapped miners. First of all, our hearts go out to you. We know how anguished you must be as you are trying to wait for any information at all. How hopeful are you about this ongoing rescue operation?

AMBER HELMS, DAUGHTER OF TRAPPED MINER: I am very, very hopeful. I know we have the best teams, the best equipment. These are the same people that helped those in Pennsylvania and I have very much hope. These are strong miners.

They are family down there and they are going to take care of each other. I have a lot of hope. A lot of faith that it will be okay.

ZAHN: We've heard an awful lot about the strength and courage of the men that go underground everyday to do these kind of jobs. What do you want our audience to know about your father and how he approached his job every day?

HELMS: It was his job. He's done it for 35 years. He did what he did and he did it good. There is no measure for a mistake. He always puts other people ahead of himself. He's always -- always there for his co-workers. He's definitely a leader.

ZAHN: We are praying for him tonight as well as the 12 other men trapped underground. Amber Helms, thanks for joining us tonight.

Thank you for joining for our very special coverage to the trapped miners. "LARRY KING" continues now, with more coverage.


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