January 04, 2006

12 of 13 Trapped W.Va. Miners Found Alive

TALLMANSVILLE, W.Va. - Twelve of the 13 miners trapped in an explosion in a coal mine were found alive late Tuesday after more than 41 hours underground, turning a community's worst fears to unbridled joy. Family members streamed from the church where they had kept vigil, shouting "Praise the Lord!"

Bells at the church rang out as family members ran out screaming in jubilation. Relatives yelled "They're alive!"

"They told us they have 12 alive," said Gov. Joe Manchin, leader of the nation's No. 2 coal-producing state. "We have some people that are going to need some medical attention."

The miners' conditions were unknown, and several ambulances with flashing red lights were parked at the mine entrance.

Mine officials earlier found extremely dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in the part of the mine where the men where believed to have been. The odorless, colorless gas can be lethal at high doses. At lower levels, it can cause headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea, fatigue and brain damage.

Rescue crews found the body of a 13th miner earlier Tuesday evening and said they were holding out hope that the others were still alive, even as precious time continued to slip away.

The mine's owner, International Coal Group Inc., did not immediately confirm that the 12 other men were alive. A relative at the church said a mine foreman called relatives there, saying the miners had been found.

A few minutes after word came, the throng, several hundred strong, broke into a chorus of the hymn "How Great Thou Art," in a chilly, night air.

"Miracles happen in West Virginia and today we got one," said Charlotte Weaver, wife of Jack Weaver, one of the men who had been trapped in the mine.

"I got scared a lot of times, but I couldn't give up," she said. "We have an 11-year-old son, and I couldn't go home and tell him, 'Daddy wasn't coming home.'"

There were hugs and tears among the crowd outside the Sago Baptist Church near the mine, about 100 miles northeast of Charleston.

Helen Winans, whose son Marshall Winans, was one of those trapped, said she believes there was divine intervention.

"The Lord takes care of them," she said.

The body was found about 700 feet from a mine car, and it appeared the employee was working on a beltline, which brings coal out of the mine, said Ben Hatfield, chief executive officer for ICG of Ashland, Ky.

Michelle Mouser of Morgantown said her family believed the dead miner was her uncle, Terry Helms.

"You've got the 12 that went in the buggy and the one who was dropped off at the belt," said Mouser, who was to identify the body. "It was my uncle who gets the belt running."

The mine car was empty, which led rescuers to believe the others may have been safe somewhere else in the mine.

"I'm really glad for all the others; it's a miracle," she said.

The miners had been trapped 260 feet below the surface of the mine since an explosion early Monday.

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