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Venting delays rescue effort at W.Va. mine

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Gov. Joe Manchin of West Virginia in Sept. 25, 2008, file photo. (UPI Photo/Roger L. Wollenberg) | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/f35a186b5833443a82706101bd8723b6/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Gov. Joe Manchin of West Virginia in Sept. 25, 2008, file photo. (UPI Photo/Roger L. Wollenberg) | License Photo

MONTCOAL, W.Va., April 6 (UPI) -- Crews must wait a day to resume looking for four miners in a West Virginia coal mine following an explosion that killed 25 others, officials said.

Gov. Joe Manchin said it would take at least until Wednesday evening for crews to drill boreholes into the mine to vent toxic gases and make conditions safe for the search to go on, The Charleston Gazette reported Tuesday.

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Manchin also pledged to hold a public hearing as part of the investigation into the Monday explosion at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County.

"It's quite evident that something went very wrong here," said Kevin Stricklin, coal mine safety administrator with the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Rescuers were recalled from the mine early Tuesday because of dangerously high levels of methane, and then began drilling boreholes for venting.

Teams reached the first of two rescue chambers in the mine before methane levels became too high," Stricklin said.

The rescue chambers have about four days' worth of survival supplies.

"As soon as we can send rescue teams back in the mine, we'll do it," Stricklin said. "I think it's a dire situation."

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U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., whose district includes the area of the explosion, was at the scene, the Gazette said.

"There is a great deal of comfort being bestowed on them right now," Rahall said.

President Barack Obama, speaking at a prayer breakfast for ministers, asked for prayers.

"I would ask the faithful who've gathered here this morning to pray for the safe return of the missing, the men and women who put their lives on the line to save them, and the souls of those who have been lost in this tragic accident," Obama said. "May they rest in peace, and may their families find comfort in the hard days ahead."

Federal records indicate the Upper Big Branch mine recorded an injury rate worse than the national average for similar operations in six of the last 10 years,The New York Times said. Records also indicated the mine had 458 violations in 2009 and was fined $897,325, paying $168,393.

Cecil Roberts, United Mine Workers of America president, said the Upper Branch Mine is a non-union mine but "I have dispatched highly trained and skilled UMWA personnel (to the mine) and they stand ready to offer any assistance they can to the families and the rescuers at this terrible and anxious time. We are all brothers and sisters in the coalfields at times like this."

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It is the worst mining disaster in the United States since 27 people died at a Utah mine in 1984.

Four years ago, a series of mine accidents in West Virginia and Kentucky killed 19 miners and led to reforms to U.S. mine safety laws for the first time in three decades, the Gazette said.

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