New Zealand: Search delayed for 29 miners after gas blast

November 20, 2010 00:49

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Rescue crews waited impatiently Saturday outside one of New Zealand's  largest coal mines for the go-ahead to begin a search for 29 men missing after a powerful gas explosion struck deep underground.

Two dazed and slightly injured miners stumbled to the surface hours after the blast shot up the 354-foot- (108-meter-) long ventilation shaft at the Pike River mine on Friday. Video from the scene showed blackened trees and light smoke billowing from the top of the rugged mountain where the mine is located, near Atarau on New Zealand's South Island.

A company official had earlier said that five men had come out of the mine, based on information provided by the two men who had surfaced. By Saturday morning, however, officials had seen no sign of the other three men.

By daybreak, no communication had been received from any of the missing workers, the company said, and rescuers were unable to enter the mine because of the risk of a buildup of explosive methane gas.

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