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Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News
Wylee Sherman, 3, puts his handprint on a sign that his family made for the miners' families at Canyon View Junior High in Huntington where the families have gathered.

HUNTINGTON, Emery County — Within the next 24 to 48 hours, rescuers may be able to make contact with six miners trapped 1,500 feet underground inside a collapsed mine shaft.

Drilling rigs are making progress on the outside of the Crandall Canyon Mine, said Bob Murray, the president of Murray Energy Corp., which owns the mine.

Wearing miner's gear and his face a little blackened, Murray said he had just returned from a tour of the mine with the son of one of the trapped miners, and the brother of another trapped miner.

"They gave an outstanding report to the families that I know went a long ways to give them some confidence that everything humanly possible is being and has been done to rescue these miners," Murray told reporters tonight.

Officials who spoke to the Deseret Morning News on the condition of anonymity identified the trapped miners as Manuel Sanchez, Kerry Allred, Luis Hernandez, Carlos Payan, Brandon Phillips and Don Erickson.

Rescue efforts

Rescue efforts continue around the clock.

Efforts are being made to reach the trapped miners from inside and outside of the mine. Two holes are being drilled into the mountain above to reach the miners. Murray said a 2 1/2 inch hole has been drilled 875 feet into the ground now. Federal officials told the Deseret Morning News today it is moving at a pace of about 70 feet per hour.

A hole nearly 9 inches in size has only made it 20 feet.

Yet mine officials said it is possible both will be able to make it to the area the miners are believed to be in within the next 24 to 48 hours.

Drilling through the mountain from the outside will only allow them to make a hole big enough to communicate and supply food and fresh air for the trapped men. Mine officials suggested the miners could survive indefinitely underground with that support.

"We can provide everything they need, including a toothbrush and a comb," said Murray.

Crews have been going back into the mine and restabilizing some of the mine shafts, using timber supports and chain link fencing to guard against any more cave-ins. Murray said they have to wait for the seismic activity underground to subside before proceeding.

The underground method is believed to be the fastest way to reach the miners. Overnight, crews were able to repair the ventilation system inside the Crandall Canyon Mine, restoring oxygen flow to parts of the coal mine.

It is unknown if the miners are alive or dead. They were in the middle of working a 12-hour shift early Monday when the mine shaft they were in collapsed in an event so powerful, it registered 3.9 on the Richter scale. Ten miners were inside the area at the time, four managed to escape.

Families frustrated

Meanwhile, family members expressed some frustration trying to get information on the rescue efforts.

"They are frustrated," Emery County Sheriff Lamar Guyman told the Deseret Morning News after leaving a meeting earlier this morning with the families.

Maria Buenrostro, the sister of trapped miner Manuel Sanchez, said Murray got angry with the questions and walked out of a meeting this morning.

"We want the truth, that's all we want," Buenrostro told the Associated Press. "If there's nothing that they can do about it, you know, just tell us so we know what to expect when they bring them out."

She said there was no interpreter for three Spanish-speaking families. Asked about his meeting with families, Murray said he's been thanked by them.

Family members of the six miners have been sequestered at Canyon View Junior High. The entire building has now been leased by Murray Energy Corp., and access to the school has been blocked by Emery County Sheriff's deputies and the mining company.

School district business administrator Jared Black said the standard rental agreement for buildings to outside parties has a built-in hourly fee of $20. In this case, the rental agreement for the school is open-ended.

Members of the Emery School Board have approved waivers of the rental fees in the past, which is done on a case-by-case basis, Black said.

President Bush calls

This morning, President Bush called Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to express his thoughts on the mining tragedy. He spoke about it at a news conference on the economy at the U.S. Treasury Department.

"I told him the nation's thoughts and prayers are with the miners and their families, and that the federal government will help in any way we can," the president said.

In an interview with the Fox News Channel today, Mr. Bush said coal mining should not be abandoned because it is risky and dangerous.

"It doesn't make any sense to abandon an energy resource of which we have got a bountiful supply if part of our strategy is to become less dependent on foreign sources of energy," he said.

Huntsman is in Huntington again today to meet with mine officials, rescuers and the families of the trapped miners.

In Huntington, signs are up around town showing support and solidarity for the missing men and their families. The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City held a Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine tonight for the miners and their families. A candlelight vigil is also scheduled to be held tonight in Huntington at dusk.

Earthquake rumble

Murray insists an earthquake that lasted several minutes caused the mine collapse, and several aftershocks have plagued rescue efforts. However, scientists again said they believe it was the mine collapse that registered a 3.9 on the Richter scale.

"All the data suggests it's a mine collapse," said Rafael Abreu, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo.

Speaking to reporters today, Murray again dismissed the scientists' assertion and said he would no longer speak about it.

"From our mining experience, we know this was an earthquake," he said.

The University of Utah Seismograph Stations said it has not ruled out conclusively that an earthquake was not involved but said all of the seismic events appear to be consistent with a mine collapse.

MSHA officials said there will be an "exhaustive" investigation to determine what caused the collapse. On the scene, assistant U.S. Labor Secretary Richard Stickler would not speculate on the cause, or whether so-called "retreat" mining had anything to do with it.

"I assure you, by the end of that investigation, we will have the answer," he said.

Murray Energy has said it was not conducting that type of mining, in which pillars holding up the roof of a mine shaft are pulled and it caves in. The leftover coal is then harvested.

MSHA officials in Washington, D.C., confirmed to the Deseret Morning News that the Crandall Canyon Mine had been conducting retreat mining. A plan filed by the mine was approved by federal authorities, said MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere.

"What we have emphasized is that as long as the roof control plan is followed, it can be a very safe method for mining," she said.

Contributing: Amy Joi O'Donoghue

E-mail: twalch@desnews.com; bwinslow@desnews.com