/ 30 November 2010

Fire rages in New Zealand coal mine

A fire continued to blaze in a New Zealand coal mine on Tuesday as relatives of the 29 men, who died in an underground explosion, were warned that the bodies may not be recovered.

The Pike River mine has been blasted by three explosions since the first rocked the pit on November 19.

Relatives had been pinning their hopes on the bodies being recovered to allow them to grieve over family funeral rites but it was pointed out that a fire in another mine continues to smoulder, 43 years after a similar methane explosion killed 19 miners.

Peter Whittall, chief executive of the Pike River company, said some families were coming to terms with the fact they may not get the remains of their loved ones.

As the Pike River underground fire continued to rage, it sent flames shooting up the mine’s 108-metre ventilation shaft, which was acting like a chimney, Whittal said.

He said a jet engine imported from Australia to snuff it out may have to be used several times to make it safe enough for a recovery team to go in.

Whittall said the fire, initially thought to be burning loose coal dislodged in the explosions, was now thought to have ignited the 8-metre thick coal seam, which would take much longer to extinguish.

About 7 000 people are expected to attend a national remembrance service for the victims at a racetrack near Greymouth, the main town on the west coast of the South Island and centre of the region’s coal mining industry, on Thursday.

The men will be remembered by 29 tables, each decorated by family members, at the venue looking out on the Paparoa Ranges, where the men are entombed in the mine. — Sapa-dpa