Wales

Trapped miners: Dark cloud hangs over community says MP

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Media captionDebris and sludge are hampering the rescue effort to find the trapped miners

A dark cloud is hanging over a Swansea Valley community awaiting news on four men trapped 90m (295ft) below ground, says MP Peter Hain.

Mr Hain was speaking after divers were forced to turn back as they tried to reach the miners trapped at Gleision Colliery near Cilybebyll, Pontardawe.

Charles Bresnan, 62; David Powell, 50; and Garry Jenkins, 39, from the Swansea Valley; and Phillip Hill, 45, of Neath, have been trapped for nearly 24 hours.

About 50 rescuers are at the scene.

Police are due to give an update at a news conference at 08:30 BST.

The Neath MP said it was a "harrowing" situation for families and friends awaiting news at a nearby community centre.

"There is no getting away from it, there is a dark cloud hanging over this community at this time," he said.

"I understand there is a really bad situation in the depth of the tunnel itself with debris and sludge and dark dark murky water."

Gary Evans of the South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team said there was zero visibility for the divers to work in, forcing them back.

He said they had hoped to find the men before water in the tunnel had been removed. The issue now was to remove the water as quickly as possible.

"Although the pumping is going well it is taking a long time."

Emergency services, called to the mine at 09:21 BST on Thursday, said it was not yet known exactly how the incident happened.

Two men escaped unaided from the drift mine - a mine cut into the side of a hill where the coal seam is accessed horizontally - before help arrived.

A third miner was rescued and taken to Morriston Hospital in Swansea where he is in a critical condition.

Wayne Thomas, official with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in south Wales, said all the men were experienced and specialist miners.

He said the priority was to remove the water as quickly as possible.

Mr Thomas said the rescuers were monitoring the water levels and checking ventilation and the gases coming out of the mine.

"Clearing the water has to be the main priority," he said.

Image caption Emergency services were alerted at around 09:21 on Thursday

Chris Margetts, from Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, said water was being pumped from the mine and oxygen was being pumped in.

"What we have determined is the miners are located approximately 90m underground," he said.

"They are down a 250m main route into the mine... there are numerous little tunnels and old workings which all potentially have air pockets in.

"They are experienced miners, they know the layout of the mine, they would know where to go in this situation.

"What we are dealing with is their egress out of the mine is full of water."

He said conditions in the mine were favourable and he was "very hopeful and optimistic" the men could be freed successfully.

Mine owners MNS said their thoughts were with the families who are awaiting news at a nearby community centre.

Mr Hain added: "All communities have been rallying round.

"We have not known an accident like this for a long time and we've not known this type of grim situation of the waiting and hoping against hope and the harrowing mood that has engulfed everybody despite the energetic and dedicated work of the emergency workers and rescue staff."

Meanwhile, a dedicated telephone line has been set up for members of the public to contact if they are concerned that relatives may have been involved. The number is 01792 555565.

Image caption Map showing area where the mine is

Although most mines in south Wales are now closed, there are pockets of small-scale collieries still in operation.

Gleision Colliery, in operation since 1993, works coal under a very steep hillside above the banks of the river Tawe.

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