Fire at Canadian mine traps 70 miners

Fire broke out in a mine in central Canada, forcing some 70 miners trapped underground to retreat to emergency refuge rooms stocked with oxygen and supplies, a mine official said. Late Sunday, a rescue team reached one of the rooms, made sure everyone was safe, then closed them back inside until the air inside the mine could be cleared of toxic gases, said Marshall Hamilton, a spokesman for Mosaic Company, the Minneapolis-based firm that operates the potash mine.

Hamilton said company officials had not been able to establish a radio link with the 30 miners in that room for about 18 hours. He said the rescue team took a roll call and checked the miners' health before leaving. "I won't kid you, there was a lot of relief in that," Hamilton said.

Workers extinguished the fire about 20 hours after it started and began clearing the smoke from the mine. Hamilton added: "We'd rather do this safely than quickly." "They're safe where they are, they're safe in there for many, many hours, potentially even days," he said. Rayanne Hogshaw, the sister of one of the trapped workers, said it was nerve-wracking waiting for news about her brother. "It's pretty scary. I know myself, my brother has two little boys at home and a fiancee, and you sit and wait and you wonder. And there's nothing you can do," she said.

The other 40 miners were separated into two groups in other safe rooms, where they were in phone contact with rescuers. Hamilton said the fire broke out around 3 a.m. Sunday nearly a mile (1.6 kilometers) underground in the province of Saskatchewan. It was not immediately clear how it started.

The miners reported smoke and quickly headed for the safe refuge rooms, which can be as large as 50 feet by 150 feet (15 meters by 45 meters) and have an internal supply of oxygen that lasts up to 36 hours, along with food, water, chairs and beds. Two hours later, teams of six rescue personnel began to be mobilized, going into the mine for a few hours at a time, then coming back out and sending in the next team.

Hamilton said that some of the miners' families had gathered at the mine. "They're a little bit tired. They're a little bit anxious. They have confidence that we've going to safely bring them up," he said. "Nevertheless, they'd like to see them sooner rather than later,” reports the AP. I.L.

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