The West Virginia community rocked by a massive mine explosion that killed 25 people are holding onto fading hope that the four miners believed to be trapped deep in in the mountainside will be found alive.
"I've never seen anything like it," West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin told "Good Morning America" today, adding that it could take more than 12 hours for rescue workers to drill deep enough in the mine to ventilate the area and test the air quality.
Nearly everyone in the community surrounding Massey Energy Co.'s Upper Big Branch mine near Whitesville, W. Va., has been affected by the worst mine disaster in more than 25 years.
President Obama asked for prayers for the men killed, their families and the rescue workers trying to find the miners still missing.
"May they rest in peace and may their families find comfort in the hard days ahead," he said from the East Room of the White House ahead of an Easter prayer breakfast.
Obama reiterated his offer to Manchin that "the federal government stands ready to offer any assistance that is needed."
Eleven deceased miners have been identified so far. Eighteen are still in the mine and 14 of those are known to be dead, leaving more than a dozen families to wonder whether their loved ones died or whether they can hold out hope that they are among the four possibly still alive deep in the mine.
One miner, whose family has not been identified, came out of the mine during the day shift but lost his son, older brother and nephew in the explosion. All three men have been recovered and identified.
But hopes are waning for the men still under the ground. A buildup of toxic methane gas forced rescue workers from the mine early this morning. With the threat of subsequent explosions high, officials decided not to risk more lives to reach those who are still underground.
"From the beginning to the end the best word I can think of to describe the evening was agony," the Red Cross' Sheri McGraw said this morning.
She described how families clung to each other in a holding area, eyes trained on the door waiting for word from mine officials.
"These guys are tough -- tough as nails," Morgan Hall, who lost his best friend in the blast, said. "They know what they're stepping into. You just work safe."
The family of another of the miners who died in the blast said they simply prayed for him.
"We asked the Lord to watch over him," a family member said. "After 30 years in the mines, he said, 'If he takes me tomorrow, I've had a good life.'"
With the vast improvements made in terms of mine safety, technology and education, an explosion of this proportion was likely the result of a perfect storm of events, according to Mike Rohaly, a retired mine engineer who spent about 15 of his 35-year career underground.
"In this day and age this kind of mine disaster is unheard of," Rohaly said. "A lot of bad things have to happen at the same time, in my opinion."
While the tight-knit community is now bonded in shared anguish and grief, Rohaly said he'd expect a range of emotions as friends and family learn more about the accident.
"I'm sure the response will vary all over the board with the miners and their families," Rohaly said. "Some of them will go right back to work, some of them will not have anything to do with mining and move, do whatever they can to get away from it."