The explosion occurred underground on Monday afternoon, at Massey Energy Co's enormous Upper Big Branch mine, located just 30 miles south of Charleston. It was caused by methane gas trapped below the surface of the mine. Massey reportedly has a history of violations for improper ventilation of highly combustible methane at its mine sites.
Rescue workers are currently trying to drill 1,000 feet below the surface to free the remaining trapped methane to prevent the risk of further explosions and facilitate finding the missing miners.
But the situation does not look good. While the rescuers initially thought they could start drilling within 12 hours of the blast, it now appears that the drilling won't be complete until Wednesday evening.
"The odds are long against us, it's tough," Gov. Joe Manchin told NBC's "Today Show."
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Two miners who survived the blast did manage to get out of the mine. They were on a vehicle that was taking them out of the shaft at the time of explosion. Seven other miners on the truck died. A total of 29 miners were in the area at the time of the explosion, which occurred during a shift change.
The force of the explosion was so intense that it twisted the local railway tracks like pretzels, Gov. Manchin told reporters. This explosion is the worst mining disaster to happen since 1984, when 27 miners died in a fire at a mine in Orangeville, Utah.