MARCINELLE, Belgium (UP) -- Rescue workers sealed off six "death chambers" in the Bitter Heart coal mine today in the grim hope that the sure death of 25 or more miners there would increase chances of survival of many others trapped farther below.
Hopes were slim. Nearly all of the 258 caught in Belgium's biggest mine disaster were feared dead. Rescue workers hampered by raging fire that broke out anew today reached the 2,500-foot level where 80 men were reported missing, but found that the entrance to their gallery had collapsed.
Officials said, on the basis of the number of men scheduled to be at work when the disaster occurred Wednesday, 258 workers were trapped at the outset but they emphasized this still may be inexact.
As of noon today, that figure was broken down this way: 8 bodies recovered, 6 rescued alive, 1 rescued alive who later died, and 243 still missing. Seven men who were working in a new tunnel and escaped in the first few minutes of the fire were not included in this list.
The fire, which for a while was believed to be dying out, broke out again in both main shafts of the mine early today. Rescue workers trying to reach the lower level of the mine 3,500 feet below the surface sealed off the opening of six blazing tunnels with sand and "glass wool" insulation material.
The bodies of at least 25 miners were known to be in the sealed-off area.
A seven-man rescue team penetrated most of the way down a shaft to the 2,500-foot level where 80 miners were missing, only the find the entrance to that gallery collapsed. The collapse dimmed the chances of finding any of the 80 men on that level alive.
However, Egidio Morosini, an Italian member of the rescue team, refused to give up. "Maybe there is hope, maybe there is not," he said. "But we are not giving up."
Authorities called it the biggest mining disaster in Belgian history as a smoke-yellow dawn broke over this south-central Belgian mining town today.