West Virginia Mine Survivor: Blast Felt Like 'Hurricane-Force Winds'

A miner who survived the massive West Virginia mine explosion said he had to struggle through "hurricane-force winds" and flying debris to make it above ground.

Stanley Stewart said he was between 300 and 400 feet under the ground, preparing to start his shift, when the blast hit.

"I told my friends, 'Take your time, so you don't fall.' I was trying not to panic, panic was setting in," he said. "I knew it was bad."

Once out, Stewart said he immediately volunteered to go back in to pull his friends out, but was not allowed to make the rescue attempt.

VIDEO: Massey Energy was fined millions for repeated safety violations.
West Virginia Mine Explosion Kills 25

"Some of the company personnel found some people that were killed," he said, crying. "Some of those were my buddies."

Twenty-five miners were killed in the explosion, which was believed to have been caused by a buildup of methane gas deep in the Upper Big Branch mine . Another four are still unaccounted for.

Rescue workers were chased out of the mangled mine by poisonous gases early today, and officials said that search teams would not be allowed back in until they can test the air in the area where they hope the miners are holed up with clean air.

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin said crews will have to drill down about 1,000 feet to be able to release the gases and test the air to determine whether it's safe for rescuers.

An access road had to be cleared to get the heavy equipment into place, but the work went more quickly than had been originally expected.

"The drills are in place now," Manchin said at a news briefing late this afternoon.

Four shafts will have to be drilled to release the methane and carbon monoxide that made the mine too dangerous for rescuers to continue their search. Even though the drills were in place, Manchin said it could be Wednesday night before the first hole is completed.

The tough mining town is holding on to fading hope that the four miners believed to be trapped deep in the mountainside will be found alive.

"You don't give up hope until you actually confirm you have bodies," an official said.

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.

Some residents are already getting angry.

"I don't understand why it had to happen," Janice Florence told "World News with Diane Sawyer." "I thought they had things like alarm systems and things that would go off in the mines.

"They need to be safe," she said. "I just hope they get to the bottom of this."

Stewart said he considered himself lucky that he hadn't gotten very far into the mine when the explosion happened.

"We felt a gush of air, which was abnormal, then all of a sudden it was full-blown blast," he said. "I started running towards the portal. It was like hurricane-force winds, that's the only way I can describe it."

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 before an Easter prayer breakfast.

Obama reiterated his offer to the West Virginia governor that "the federal government stands ready to offer any assistance that is needed."

Richard Scarbro, whose friend Deward Scott was killed in the blast as he was leaving the mine at the end of his shift, said "there's no answer."

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