New Zealand Mine Explosion Traps Dozens

Twenty-seven miners are believed to be trapped in New Zealand coal mine.

November 19, 2010, 7:49 AM

Nov. 19, 2010 — -- A powerful explosion in a New Zealand coal mine has trapped more than two dozen miners underground.

"There has been an explosion," New Zealand's Grey District mayor Tony Kikshoom said. "They don't even know at what depth of the mine it is. It's too early to make any calls, but it's not good news at the moment."

Some 27 miners are believed to be alive somewhere in the mine, and rescuers are currently assessing the best way to get to them.

"Power went out at the Pike River coal mine," Barbara Dunn, the communications manager for the Tasman District of New Zealand told ABC News. "An electrician initially went in to see what had happened and he discovered a loader driver had been blown off his machine from an explosion."

That loader driver was reportedly hundreds of feet away from the explosion -- an apparent sign of the blast's strength.

Two miners who were working in a different part of the mine have stumbled out of the mine's entrance and said three more could be behind them, a police report said.

A special rescue team, known as the West Coast Mine Rescue Team, has assembled at the mine "to assess what the requirements might be to go into the mine and effect a rescue," New Zealand Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee said.

"So at this stage we're trying to stay out of their way. They are the experts," he said.

The mine entrance runs a little less than a mile and half before branching off into sub areas, police said. It has two emergency exits, but it's unclear if the miners can reach either.

The clock is ticking, however, as police worry that the mine's ventilation system may have been damaged in the blast. There is also a danger that trapped methane gas could create pockets of "fire damp," the New Zealand Herald reported.

Chile's Mine Rescue Offers Hope

Tasman Police District Commander Superintendent Gary Knowles said he understood it is a "very uncertain and worrying time for families and friends of the miners and contractors who are in the mine," but those involved in the rescue said they're inspired by the dramatic rescue of the 33 trapped Chilean miners last month.

"We haven't given up hope at all," one rescuer said. "But it's a serious situation."

The Chilean miners were trapped 2,258 feet below ground for several weeks, but officials in New Zealand hope the new ordeal will not last nearly as long.

One emergency response official told The Herald a rescue effort could be mounted within hours.

Camps have been set up for the families of those trapped in the explosion where Red Cross and Victim Support volunteers are "providing comfort and refreshments," police said.

Investigators do not know what caused the blast.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events