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Miners glad to be digging again at site of underground ordeal
SOMERSET, Pa. -- For the first time in nearly four months, Wendell Horner went to work as a shuttle car operator at the Quecreek mine.
"It felt really good to be loading coal," Horner, 44, said after his shift ended Friday afternoon. "Everybody's fired up and ready to go to work, to put this behind us."
Mining had been halted since July 24, when nine miners became trapped underground for 77 hours after accidentally digging into an abandoned, flooded mine.
About 50 Quecreek workers resumed mining Thursday afternoon, after the state Department of Environmental Protection issued Black Wolf Coal Co. a permit. The nine rescued miners have said they don't plan to return to work underground, and another half-dozen also have not returned.
"They're all back that want to be back," said Black Wolf spokesman John Weir.
Although the mining has just resumed, Black Wolf workers have been at Quecreek -- and even in parts of the mine -- doing cleanup and other work since shortly after the accident.
Miners are working in a section of the mine about 2,500 feet from where the flood occurred. State officials have set strict guidelines on the areas that can be mined over the next six months, and now require miners to drill horizontal bores 2,000 feet ahead to ensure safety.
Miners also must stay at least 500 feet away from the abandoned Saxman mine that was breached in July. Regulations at the time of the flood had called for them to stay 200 feet away, and outdated maps had led the miners to believe they were about 300 feet away.
Black Wolf has installed seals, pumps and drains where the miners breached the Saxman mine to offer an extra buffer should water threaten the rest of the Quecreek mine.
Horner, a miner for 10 years, said he is happy with the changes. "I feel more confident right now than I ever did because of the extra steps the state and the company have taken," he said.
Weir estimates that the Quecreek mine has 13 or 14 years of productivity remaining. The mine produces about 50,000 tons of coal a month, but the company plans to "go slow, keep it safe," Weir said.