“New Zealand has been devastated by the news that we have all been dreading,” said New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. “This is a national tragedy.”
Concerns about a buildup of explosive gases such as methane and evidence of a fire burning underground kept rescuers from entering the mine to search for survivors. Some family members voiced their frustration and anger over the delay, believing that if rescue efforts had been initiated on Nov. 19, their loved ones might have had a chance for survival.
Peter Whittall, the chief executive of the Pike River Coal company, told reporters that because of the conditions in the mine, a second explosion was anticipated. “It could have happened on the second day, it could have happened on the third day,” he said, adding, “It’s just as unsafe now as it was two hours ago. The gas will still be coming out of the coal. There’s still an ignition source. There’s no doubt burning methane from that explosion.”
Mines in New Zealand historically have a good safety record. The most recent New Zealand mining tragedy of this scale occurred in 1967 near the current event, when 19 miners were killed in an explosion.