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Attempt to reach 6 trapped in Utah mine will take 3 days, owner says; progress ’too slow’

    HUNTINGTON, Utah — Efforts to reach six coal miners trapped more than 1,500 feet underground will take at least three days, and rescuers weren’t even sure the men had survived the cave-in, one of the mine’s owners said Tuesday.
    Crews worked through the night in shifts, with teams coming and going along the road leading to the Crandall Canyon mine in a forested canyon.
    ‘‘The Lord has already decided whether they’re alive or dead,’’ said Robert E. Murray, chairman of Murray Energy Corp. of Cleveland, a part owner of the Crandall Canyon mine. ‘‘But it’s up to Bob Murray and my management to get access to them as quickly as we can.’’
    If all goes well, it will still take three days to reach the chamber where the miners are believed to be, he said. Even then, rescuers will have only a 2-inch hole into the chamber through which to communicate with the miners and provide them food or air, he said.
    Little was known about the six miners. Only one has been identified, but Mexico’s consul in Salt Lake City, Salvador Jimenez, said three of the men are Mexican citizens.
    Jimenez said he did not know any details about the men, including whether they are U.S. residents, their ages or hometowns.
    Crews moved only 310 feet closer to the miners in the first 30 hours after the cave-in, Murray said.
    Attempts were halted overnight after a ‘‘bump’’ in which coal was dislodged from the mine’s ribs, said Al Davis, an official with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.
    ‘‘They’re digging as much as they can, even with their hands,’’ said Julie Jones, a city councilwoman whose son, Elam, works at the mine.
    The trapped miners were believed to be in a chamber 3.4 miles inside the mine. Rescuers were able to reach a point about 1,700 feet from that point before being blocked by debris.
    ‘‘Right now I can’t say if it’s looking any better,’’ weary miner Leland Lobato said around dawn. ‘‘They’re doing what they can to keep everybody as fresh as possible so nobody gets tired.’’
    Two C-130s from the 911th Airlift Wing of the Air Reserve in Pittsburgh were being sent seismic equipment and staff, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
    Murray said there were 30 pieces of ‘‘massive’’ mining equipment in place and 134 people dedicated to the rescue.
    He insisted that an earthquake caused the cave-in and angrily denied that a dangerous method called retreat mining was taking place at the time.
    In that method, pillars of coal are used to hold up an area of the mine’s roof. When that area is completely mined, pillars are pulled to get access to useful coal, causing an intentional collapse.
    ‘‘The pillars were not being removed here at the time of the accident. There are eight solid pillars around where the men are right now,’’ Murray said.
    University of Utah seismograph stations recorded seismic waves of 3.9 magnitude Monday, though scientists said it was unclear if the collapse caused the earthquake or the quake came first.
    The mine is built into a mountain in the rugged Manti-La Sal National Forest, 140 miles south of Salt Lake City, in a sparsely populated area.
    Emery County Sheriff Lamar Guymon said 90 percent of the community is tied to coal mining or energy production.
    ‘‘This affects everybody, not just six families,’’ he said.
    Many family members don’t speak English, so Huntington Mayor Hilary Gordon said she hugged them, put her hands over her heart and then clasped them together to let them know she was praying for them.
    Government mine inspectors have issued 325 citations against the mine since January 2004, according to a quick analysis of federal Mine Safety and Health Administration online records. Of those, 116 were what the government considered ‘‘significant and substantial,’’ meaning they are likely to cause injury.
    The 325 safety violations is not unusual, said J. Davitt McAteer, former head of the MSHA and now vice president of Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia.
    ‘‘It’s not perfect but it’s certainly not bad,’’ McAteer said.
    This year, inspectors have issued 32 citations against the mine, 14 of them considered significant.
    Emery County, the state’s No. 2 coal-producer, also was the site of a fire that killed 27 people in the Wilburg mine in December 1984.
    ———
    Associated Press writers Garance Burke in Huntington, Brock Vergakis in Salt Lake City and Seth Borenstein in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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