Wales

Welsh mine tragedy: Hope ends in tears for families

Volunteer at Rhos Community Centre
Image caption A volunteer brings sandwiches to the families of the miners in Rhos

David Dulin, BBC Wales News website reporter, followed events at Rhos Community Centre near the Gleision mine since Friday morning.

Since news of the incident broke on Thursday, Rhos Community Centre - less than a mile from the Gleision colliery - became the official support centre for the families of the trapped miners.

Local people brought cakes, piles of sandwiches and biscuits to the centre, while those inside were cared for by the Red Cross and Women's Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS).

It was also where rescue workers came and went throughout the day receiving refreshments and taking a brief rest before returning to the operation.

But despite the news at about 08:30 BST that the body of the first miner had been found, there still remained hope.

Neath MP Peter Hain said the families were "in a nightmare none of us could comprehend" and admitted the families would rather not have known that news as no-one knew which family had just lost a loved one.

Mr Hain and First Minister Carwyn Jones later went up to the mine and on their return to the centre they looked grim and said nothing. Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan also visited the centre to voice her support.

Then, at about 12:40 BST a small group of men briefly gathered at the back of the community centre and hugged each other before going their separate ways.

More people soon followed from the same back entrance and stood motionless in the field. Shortly afterwards the heavens opened. It was a sinking feeling that more bad news was on the way.

It later emerged the body of a second man had been discovered by rescue teams 25 minutes earlier. He was in a different part of the mine to the first.

At about 13:45 BST some family and relatives left the community centre in tears.

The overall mood became had gone from sombre to flat, with hope appearing to fade as some 40 to 50 members of the media waited outside for updates.

Image caption People embrace outside the community centre as news emerged of the first body

At 14.30 BST some more relatives exited the back of the hall clearly tired, some tearful and ashen faced, and half-an-hour later came further bad news: a third body had been found.

Shortly beforehand Wayne Thomas from the National Union of Mineworkers had told me: "Feelings are very difficult to explain. It's an extremely, extremely difficult situation.

'Horrendous'

"What the families are going through is horrendous."

At around 15.30 BST a group of miners arrived back at the community centre carrying their belongings. They appeared to be leaving for the day, and it was confirmed that all families had left the community centre.

Among those arriving at the scene on Friday afternoon was Archbishop of Wales Dr Barry Morgan, who said: "Our hearts go out to the families because it's an awful, awful tragedy.

"Men go to work, they are trapped and they're not going to return. The whole of Wales is thinking about them."

By now, more media were gathering outside the centre and there was a feeling of resignation in the air as we awaited news of the fourth and last miner.

Then at 18:00 BST the news that everyone had been dreading came - the discovery of his body was revealed in a press conference by South Wales Police chief constable Peter Vaughan.

Neath Port Talbot councillor Rosalyn Davies, who knew three of the families involved, told me her thoughts were with the grieving families.

"The families had been so positive, even when the second body was found," said Ms Davies.

"But when the third body was found they realised there was no hope."

Ms Davies had earlier revealed that one of the miners' wives had not wanted him to go to work on Thursday but he had insisted.

"The support they have given to each other and the support the local community and wider community have given has been exceptional," she added.

"You have to have faith to carry on. It's going to be very difficult. Families are going to be asking why. That's the question we can't answer."

'Magnificent effort'

Ali Thomas, leader of Neath Port Talbot council, said it was "a very sad day" after "what has been a magnificent effort on behalf of so many".

But the circumstances were such that it didn't give them much chance, he said. "We've lost four wonderful guys."

Mr Thomas said the support the families of the four miners had received over the past 48 hours would aid them in their grief.

He also referred to five-year-old Harry Patterson, who died earlier this week after an incident on the driveway of his home at nearby Alltwen.

Mr Thomas said: "The community has been in total devastation since Tuesday since the loss of one child in tragic circumstances.

"It's not just devastating for the community but for the whole valley. The community of Rhos have been excellent. I'm very proud of the community as a whole."