After the Christchurch earthquake killed no one, we Kiwis and others around the world wait anxiously for news about the fate of 29 miners in the Pike River Coal Mine on the West Coast. An explosion due to methane gas has occurred but so much poisonous gas remains that a rescue team cannot enter the mind. It is being pointed out that this is a different kind of mining disaster to the recent Chilean disaster which ended in all surviving. Pike River is near to Greymouth, a town at the south-western edge of the Diocese of Nelson. Last night a special service was held in Holy Trinity church. NZ Herald picks up the story:
"More than 200 people filled the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Greymouth last night for a special service to help people cope as they wait for news.
Vicar Marge Tefft said the large turnout was an incredible display of "uncertainty, concern, and sorrow and hope".
She told the congregation she had noticed how people were helping each other and giving support and "doing practical things" for others in the time of need.
Archdeacon Robin Kingston said he wished he could say it was unfamiliar territory, in reference to the mining tragedies that have hit the West Coast in past years.
"Coasters have experienced so many tragedies over the years, you would think we are hardened by it. But we never are."
Special services were planned at churches in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch today.
Australia was sending a team of rescue experts to assist, Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd said.
Earlier in the evening, the police officer in command of the rescue effort said he had no option but to hold back the rescue team, consisting of experienced miners, many of whom had family inside in the mine.
District Commander Gary Knowles said: "I'm not going to put anyone else underground until I'm satisfied that it's safe and we're going to get people out."
Although they repeatedly referred to the operation as "search and recovery," Knowles and the mine's chief executive, Peter Whittall, insist they can find men alive.
"I'm the eternal optimist; that at the end of the day we're going to find these guys and bring them out," Knowles said.
The rescue attempt could begin as soon as tests showed the gases - including methane, ethane and carbon monoxide - were clearing.
"We don't work on gut feelings," he added.
Whittall, showing the strain of more than 24 hours without sleep, said the men's families were drawing comfort from one another at the local Red Cross emergency centre.
"They're spending a lot of time with each other and there's not much they can do," Whittall said. "It's much like the rest of us, they can only wait."
A source at Valley Longwall Drilling, a company contracted by the mine, said the more time they spent underground, the less likely they were going to be pulled out alive.
"The problem is the air is no good - when there's an explosion the flame sucks up the oxygen so we just don't know what they'd be breathing down there," the source said."