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PA families on edge


"We have started prayer chains and ministries"

—John Bushko, Church of the Nazarene

Local clergy reached out Friday to some 80 family members of nine coal miners trapped in a flooded mine shaft in Lincoln Township.

Family members and friends gathered in a fire hall in Sipesville, some two miles from the mine, where they awaited word on loved ones. One woman had both a husband and a father in the mine.

Families were allowed to briefly visit the mine.

Rescue crews continued Friday to try to save the miners. In the wee hours of Friday morning, there was a setback when a drill bit broke on a rescuer's drill as it cut through solid rock.

The nine miners were trapped in the shaft about 10 p.m. Wednesday after they ruptured a nearby abandoned mine that was filled with water, according to reports from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Specialized mine rescue teams Thursday morning reported hearing tapping, offering a glimmer of hope to waiting families. Officials said Friday they did not know how many miners might be alive.

Local clergy, working together with the American Red Cross, offered spiritual care for families. Pastors from nearby Somerset were traveling to Sipesville to help their colleagues.

Keith Pittsnogle, a seminarian from Gettysburg who is an intern at Trinity Lutheran Church in Somerset, was en route to the fire hall Thursday morning. His wife, who is a pastor, heard about the mine collapse from one of her parishioners. “I knew first thing this morning,” said Pittsnogle, adding that he was “trusting God to lead me” as he offered comfort to waiting families.

A representative from The Salvation Army was also on the scene, and a Salvation Army canteen unit from Altoona, was on standby to send its canteen truck to the site, said Salvation Army Maj. Robert Carney.

“We have started prayer chains and ministries,” added the Rev. John Bushko of the Church of the Nazarene in Somerset, PA.

Rescuers believed water was still filling the mine Thursday, and they heard the tapping about 6 a.m. Thursday after drilling a hole at the mine.

Another crew of miners – warned via radio by the trapped crew -- escaped by wading in water up to their necks.

The abandoned mine that the first crew hit did not appear on maps.

There was one prior accident at the mine, owned by Black Wolf Coal Co., when a 40-by-30-foot roof section collapsed last year. No one was injured. Black Wolf employs about 30 miners.

Sipesville is some 55 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. The area has seen its share of recent disasters. Sipesville is about 10 miles northwest of the crash site of Flight 93, hijacked during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

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