TALLMANSVILLE, W.Va. -- After waiting almost 12 agonizing hours for dangerous gases to clear, rescuers Monday entered a coal mine where an explosion had trapped 13 miners underground.
The condition of the miners was not immediately known. Four co-workers tried to reach them but were stopped by a wall of debris, and the blast knocked out the mine's communication equipment, preventing authorities from contacting the miners.
It was not known how much air they had or how big a space they were in. The miners had air-purifying equipment but no oxygen tanks, a co-worker said.
The first of eight search-and-rescue teams entered the Sago Mine, more than 11 hours after the blast trapped the miners. Rescue crews were kept out of the mine for most of the day while dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide were vented through holes drilled into the ground, authorities said.
Company officials believe the trapped miners were about two miles inside the mine, about 260 feet under the ground. The crew entered the mine on foot for fear of sparking another explosion.
The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration also sent a rescue robot to the mine.
Anna McCoy said her husband, Randall, 27, was among those missing. She said he had worked at the mine for three years "but was looking to get out. It was too dangerous."
Coal mine explosions are typically caused by buildups of naturally occurring methane gas, and the danger increases in the winter months, when the barometric pressure can release the odorless, colorless and highly flammable gas.
Manchin spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg said the blast may have been sparked by lightning from severe thunderstorms.
But Roger Nicholson, general counsel for the mine's owner, International Coal Group, said that it was not clear what caused the blast and that there was no indication it was methane-related.
The mine has a single entrance, and the shaft winds its way for miles underground. The miners were supposed to be working about 160 feet below the surface, said the wife of one of the trapped men. But it was unclear how far into the shaft they had gone when the blast struck.
Gene Kitts, a senior vice president at ICG, said that drilling straight down to reach the miners might be possible, but that rescuers would first have to establish the workers' exact location before determining the best way to proceed.
"If the miners are barricaded, as we hope they are, they would prepare themselves for rescue by rationing," Kitts said. The miners would probably have only their lunches and water on hand.
The blast happened between 6 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. as the first shift of miners entered to resume production following the holiday, Ramsburg said.