Skip to main content
Search
Services


 

Return to Transcripts main page

ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Trapped Underground: Mine Rescue Mission

Aired January 3, 2006 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANNOUNCER: What happens when one of the most dangerous jobs on earth is also one of the best opportunities in a small town? In the 360 manual of the nation's deadliest professions, we'll tell you which jobs made the list.
Tonight, live from Upshur County, West Virginia, here's Anderson Cooper.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. We continue to follow the developing situation, a situation that is changing every few hours. What we know is this. One miner has died. The body of that miner has been found -- not yet identified.

The families know this. They do not know, however, the identity of the one miner. And that makes the wait all the more difficult, of course. Twelve miners remain. Their status, unknown at this time.

The governor just made a statement. He seemed optimistic perhaps, saying that miracles still can happen here. Optimistic because the cart -- the vehicle that brought these miners into the mine was not damaged by the explosion. It appears that the miners -- all 12 miners got off that vehicle. The one miner, who died, was the first one off the vehicle, got off about 700 feet, sooner into the mine. Then the vehicle went about another 700 feet and the other miners got off.

So the hope is that those 12 miners were able to avoid the explosion, avoid the force -- the blast, and barricade themselves somewhere for safety. And that is where they still remain. That is the hope at this hour.

CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into the latest, and filed this report.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, good evening. We have this late information, that they have not identified the condition of that miner's body, nor have they been able to ascertain whether he was able to use any of the emergency equipment that he was issued.

Each of those miners, we are told, had about one hour's worth of oxygen to carry around with them at the time of this blast, so it is unclear, of course, what has happened to the other 12.

Officials are stressing now, though, that they are still in rescue mode. It's a very important distinction here -- rescue mode. They still have optimism that they're going to find those remaining 12 miners. We heard a moment ago from the governor, Joe Manchin. And as we've been saying, he was more upbeat and optimistic than we've seen him in a long time over the past two days. Here's some of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE MANCHIN, GOVERNOR, WEST VIRGINIA: The really unusual thing is how things have changed from what was expected, or what they thought might have happened, to what actually did happen. And the crews are out -- they're changing over crews and we're keeping fresh crews in there. They're doing everything humanly possible.

We are still fully in a rescue mode and we know that there's 12 miners in there that the blast did not affect. And we know that they are together somewhere and we're trying to find those 12 miners. And it's still an uphill battle. I want everyone to know that with the air levels that we have to deal with, it's still an uphill battle. And it's still the odds are against us.

From that being said, again, we're in a different total mode than what we thought we'd be in at this time, so our hopes are still high and we still, as I say, we believe in miracles in West Virginia, and we're still hoping for that miracle.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: That statement from Governor Joe Manchin, just about 15 minutes ago. The body of that minor found 11,200 feet into the mine. The search continues throughout the night -- Anderson.

COOPER: Brian, stay with us. We want to bring in Randi Kaye, who's also been covering the story.

Randi, I suppose, I mean, they're reading into -- this miner was found about 700 feet away from where this man car, as they call it, was found.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. And I was just talking to one of the Red Cross workers here, Anderson, and he was describing to me, as I guess it would be sort of a backwards F that we would look at --

COOPER: The mine, itself?

KAYE: Right. And there's the two fingers in the mine. And so he said that the body that was found was found before one of those fingers -- the farthest finger in. And so he would believe that actually the others might be in the middle of that far finger. And that's where they're heading right now. He said in fact, that's where the rescuers are going in right now.

COOPER: Brian, what happened with the drills? I mean, that had been a big hope yesterday, that they would be able to drill down. It really didn't work out. TODD: It didn't work out, but they're quick to point out, it's not really so much the drilling process, and any problems with it, as to the reason why they stopped. They said they stopped because the rescue teams themselves were making such great progress. They were getting further into the mine. The drilling teams were at the points where the rescuers were also near, in nearby shafts. They could not risk punching holes near where the rescue teams were because some kind of ignition could take place. The rescue teams could have been otherwise harmed. They just didn't want to take the chance. They really stressed that that was really not so much a problem with the drills, as it was an indication of how much progress the rescue teams were making.

COOPER: And Randi, right now, I mean, the air quality is very bad. The miners have had to stop or temporarily stop moving forward to try to replenish their air supplies.

KAYE: That's right. And they've been leapfrogging, as we know, and then they have to step back and find some clean air, where they can actually unload. As the governor was telling us, unload some of their gear, step back a little bit and then go back in to some of the more unsafe air and continue to push their way forward into that finger of the mine.

COOPER: It's also fascinating how -- I mean, this is kind of a low tech, this really has become -- I mean, the hope for these high- tech drills didn't really work out. And this robot, which a lot of people sort of pinned their hopes on, basically got stuck in the mud.

KAYE: Exactly. And the people who are going in -- the human rescuers -- were actually working much faster and much better than they were expecting. The drilling from the top, from the surface, as you know, it took a lot longer because they had to survey the area and then they first had to bring in the bulldozers and re-survey again, and drill down just that little six-inch diameter hole. That wasn't working and certainly, the rescue efforts underneath the mine seem to be.

COOPER: Brian, with the first drill, though, that 6-1/2 inch drill, they did put a camera down there, didn't they? What did they see?

TODD: They put in a camera. They didn't see anything initially. And again, with that first drill, what they also found was carbon monoxide -- very lethal levels of it. The first camera didn't reveal anything. That was yesterday. The drilling today was slow and sporadic. They started a second hole, they started a third hole. Then they just stopped. The rescue teams were just going too far, and that's where we stand now. No drilling at least until the morning.

COOPER: And Brian, what do we know about the carbon monoxide levels that the rescuers are finding? Have we heard any reports about what kind of levels they're getting?

TODD: They have not changed their assessment of the levels, and the levels that they're getting right now, they say are normal and breathable and survivable -- not breathable, but survivable. They're still very concerned, though, because there are certain areas of this mine that they have not been able to touch yet since that explosion. Carbon monoxide levels can stay in those areas, they can find their way into certain pockets. And those were very lethal levels of carbon monoxide. So they're proceeding very, very cautiously.

COOPER: Alright, Brian Todd, thank you. Randi Kaye, thank you as well. Appreciate it.

While we await word on the fate of the 12 miners who escaped the explosion -- we hope escaped the explosion -- and we hope escaped the carbon monoxide gasses, we are learning more about the company they worked for. And it is a company with a troubling safety record.

CNN's Tom Foreman investigates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The number of safety violations at Sago Mine has risen rapidly in the past two years. And last year, inspectors called 96 of them serious and substantial. Add 11 roof collapses in the last six months, and a former top federal official who monitored mine safety, Davitt McAteer, sees red flags.

DAVITT MCATEER, MINE SAFETY EXPERT: That's a signal to you. And it says, you better do something. You need to intervene here and change what's happening at the workplace. Because in mining, the small problems mount up quickly and catastrophically.

FOREMAN: The Sago Mine accident comes on the heals of seismic shifts in the mining business. In the 1990s, with coal prices low, many small mines cut back production, went bankrupt or shut down. And that opened the door for Billionaire Investor Wilbur Ross (ph). Ross made headlines and a fortune, buying up failing steel companies. Now, his International Coal Group is doing the same in mining. His relatively new company now owns a substantial portion of the nation's coal reserves.

ICG took over Sago only six weeks ago. And officials say the company has corrected many safety problems. But its executives don't want to discuss that at the moment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have no interest in getting into the finger pointing or who's responsible for what or what went wrong a year ago.

FOREMAN: Federal safety records indicate the coal business has grown safer in recent years, with injuries and fatalities dropping, even as production rises. But, it remains dangerous work.

The association that represents many mining companies, although not International Coal, says the Sago violations, while serious, did not necessarily signal an immediate threat.

BRUCE WATZMAN, NATIONAL MINING ASSOCIATION: When I looked at it generally, I didn't see anything that caught my attention as being so out of the ordinary.

FOREMAN (on camera): And in making a quick review of these violations, you don't see anything there that leaps out at you as endangering miners' lives?

WATZMAN: No. I did not.

FOREMAN: So what are these citations about?

WATZMAN: They could be paperwork errors, they could be reporting errors. A lot of violations, but many of which were not significant to really impact minor safety.

FOREMAN (voice-over): So what to make of the International Coal Group?

DAVITT MCATEER: They're a company that's entered the mining business and has accumulated lots of resources, and we have yet to see the proof of the pudding, in terms of safety and health.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: We do not know if investigators will ultimately hold anyone responsible for what happened in this mine or if it will turn out to be a pure accident. What we do know is this. Coal, this kind of coal is very valuable these days. As energy comes into more and more demand around the world, half of the electricity in this country is coming from this substance. That's drawing investors, it's drawing people back to the mine who need the income. And getting this out of the ground can still be very, very dangerous work -- Anderson.

COOPER: It certainly is dangerous. With these violations, I mean, if the federal government which cited the company for violations, if they had been really concerned, they could have shut the mine down?

FOREMAN: They could. It's very rare for a whole mine to be shut down. What's more common is for portions of a mine or for pieces of equipment to be put off limits as the inspectors go through. The inspection process is very broad-based. There are a lot of inspections. Some of the older mining states have their own very aggressive inspection processes. Nonetheless, there has been some criticism, particularly, from miners unions that maybe in recent years there's been a greater emphasis on a compliance measure, where they say to these companies, fix your problems. Let's all get along. Let's move forward. Some have said that maybe there needs to be little bit more of a whip to that, more of a threat of saying, if you don't take care of them right now, promptly and look out for your workers, we're going to shut you down. No doubt there will be more discussion about that now, in the wake of this accident.

COOPER: Alright, Tom Foreman, appreciate it. Let's hope there's a thorough investigation. Some perspective now on safety from Bob Ferriter. He's the director of a mine safety program at the Colorado School of Mining and he joins us tonight from Denver.

Bob, thanks very much for being with us. What do you make of these violations that this company incurred?

BOB FERRITER, DIRECTOR OF MINE SAFETY PROGRAM: Well, I really don't have a lot of specific on the violations, but any time you do have an increase in violations, that's an increase of some type of activity, either a sloppiness or something is amiss there, you need to look at those and see exactly what's going on. And then secondly, you need to look at the nature of the violations. It's like a substantial violation would be if you operated a piece of equipment without adequate brakes, that would be a very significant violation. But if it was just a minor thing like a training record wasn't quite up to date or some reporting accident -- reporting was a day or two late, that would be a lesser violation. So, you really need to look at exactly what the violations were to draw a judgment.

COOPER: And how tough is the inspection process by the federal government?

FERRITER: The inspection process by the federal government is extremely tough in my opinion. On an underground mine like that, MSHAT is required to do four underground inspections a year. And they have to go to every working space in that mine and do their inspection. So if the inspectors are on their toes, it's a very tough and very thorough inspection.

COOPER: And as you look at the rescue efforts underway tonight, as you hear the latest news, what do you make of what we've been hearing, the fact that this man bus, this portal bus was not damaged. Are you optimistic? Or are you pessimistic?

FERRITER: I'm very optimistic. I think that the fact that the bus was not damaged indicates that the explosion was small. It was not a tremendously large explosion. So that gives me hope that the remaining miners are alive. The fact that they were able to exit the vehicle and go somewhere in the mine, that means they are ambulatory. They are mobile. And I would think that they are holed up somewhere in a refuge type situation and waiting for the rescuers to arrive. So I'm very optimistic.

COOPER: We've heard that there isn't debris at the levels that he rescuers have gotten to, about 11,300 feet or so. What I don't understand is if there wasn't debris blocking the way, why couldn't the miners get out? If they had an hour of oxygen with them in their tanks, in their breathing devices, why couldn't they have gotten out?

FERRITER: I can't answer that question. The miners are trained, you know, that if something changes in a mine, there is a mine emergency, the first thing you want to do is exit the quickest way possible. And that would have been to come back out the intake airway that they were in. So I think there must have been something there, a fire or too much debris. They didn't want to climb over it, maybe there was a roof fall in there that was too high, that they were afraid to go over the top of. Their next option would be to go further in and try and cross over into another one of the fresh air entries and make their way out through that entry.

COOPER: Bob Ferriter, appreciate your expertise tonight. Thank you very much.

We are experiencing everything that goes on with the dangers of mining tonight. We are trying to cover this story from as many different angles as possible.

Just ahead, other jobs, some even more dangerous. Why do people do them? How do their spouses cope?

From West Virginia and around the world, you're watching 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Images of waiting, images we have seen so many of these last 40 hours -- 41 hours now, as we have waited for word on the condition of the 13 miners. We now know one miner has died. We are anticipating some progress report at any time in this hour or the next hour.

Coal mining is, of course, a very dangerous job, but it's by no means the only dangerous job in the United States. Tonight, CNN's Gary Tuchman takes a look at some of the other hazardous work.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A statue of a lone fisherman in Gloucester, Massachusetts, staring out to sea, as if searching for the way home. This town has lost thousands of its citizens to fishing accidents over the years. People who live off the sea, preparing for disaster is part of the job.

SEBASTIAN JUNGER, AUTHOR, "THE PERFECT STORM": In a fishing boat, you would never war boots that you couldn't kick off. Because if you go overboard, you want to be able to kick your boots off or they'll drag you down.

TUCHMAN: Sebastian Junger is the author of the best-seller, "The Perfect Storm." The story of six fishermen who died in a storm up the Massachusetts coast. He's written extensively about people who choose dangerous jobs.

JUNGER: I found that they were quite fatalistic about it, but I wouldn't say that they obsessed.

TUCHMAN: The Government says the most deadly work happens outside. Fishing, forestry, agriculture and hunting, combined lead to 30 deaths out of every 100,000 workers. Mining comes in second, with about 28 miners per 100,000 killed on the job.

When you look at specific jobs, logging is especially dangerous. Some 92 people die per 100,000. More than 22 times the rate among all workers.

Aircraft pilots are at the same level, 92 deaths. And from those who catch to those who clean fish, the fishing industry has about 86 deaths per 100,000.

Next on the list are steel workers, with 47 deaths per 100,000 employees.

And this may surprise you. The people who pick up garbage and recycling also suffer a high number of fatalities. About 43 deaths per 100,000.

For many workers, taking the risk isn't a choice.

JUNGER: Generally, they don't have options. It's not should I be a lawyer or a coal miner? Should I be a lawyer or a fisherman? They're going to those jobs because that's what the majority of young men in their community -- that's their source of income.

TUCHMAN: Still, many people would not trade what they do.

JUNGER: You hear them say, we're loggers. I know it's dangerous, but that's what we do. My father did it. All my friends do it. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

TUCHMAN: Gary Tuchman, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, we know one of the miners, Terry Holmes (ph), who is down there right now, told his son, Gary, that he didn't want him working in the mines, that he wanted him to have a different way of life and actually got him to move out, down to South Carolina, down to Myrtle Beach, to try to find a different way of life, a different job. His son is now back here, waiting for news on his father.

Erica Hill, from "HEADLINE NEWS" joins us with some of the other stories we're following tonight.

Hi Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Anderson.

After days of severe soaking storms, northern California is having again to deal with the debris left by all those flood waters.

Also today, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger expanded the list of counties eligible for disaster funds.

And there's talk in the state now -- in the state capitol, that is, about the need for a massive bond to help California deal with its aging levees.

In Boston, lawyers for victims of sexual abuse by priests rejected a settlement offer from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, calling that offer demeaning, cruel and immoral. The Archdiocese has offered average payments of $75,000 per person. That's to settle abuse claims for about 100 people. Those claims were part of the sex scandal that surfaced in Boston in 2002 and soon spread to other U.S. parishes.

In China, the country's Agriculture Ministry, confirming an outbreak of bird flu in a southwestern province. That's according to the newspaper, "China Daily." More than 1,800 poultry were found dead on a farm there, where Agriculture Ministry officials confirmed the birds did have that H5N1 virus strain.

And back to state side, a little glimpse into the American psyche -- 49 percent of Americans say most members of Congress are corrupt; 46 percent say they're not. That's according to a new CNN/USA Today Gallup Poll. So, really, you throw in the margin and it's pretty much breaking even -- Anderson.

COOPER: Alright, Erica, thanks very much. We are standing by for word on the 12 remaining trapped miners.

Also coming up tonight on 360, generation to generation, a father and son, all working at one place. A look at what life is like in coal country.

And a look at how residents are reacting to be in the world's spotlight. A small community, suddenly finding itself under a very big microscope, when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well tonight, this is a community in grief and in limbo. Tallmansville, West Virginia, is built on mining. It is not just a way of life, it is life. A very dangerous and deadly one, at that, sometimes.

CNN's Joe Johns takes a look at the life of miners.

COOPER: Okay, sorry. Clearly, we're having a problem getting that piece going. Let's go to Joe Tallman of the Washington District Volunteer Fire Department. He was the first man on the scene when the call came. We're going to go him shortly.

But, Chris Lawrence is also standing by with a demo of the device, the robotic device that they attempted to send into the mine to try to get some information on the miners. The robot here, basically got caught in the mud. Chris Lawrence takes a look at how this robot works -- Chris.

CRHIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The authorities here in Las Vegas have a V2 robot of their own, and its all controlled right here in this command center. There is more than likely one very similar to it outside that mine shaft there in West Virginia.

(Voice-over): Here, they can see, they can hear, they can talk. It is the eyes and ears of the robot, here in the command center. And in an ideal world, here is what we would see. You would see the V2 robot, maneuvering over the terrain, going to what could be a very dark, a very cramped place.

Rich Brennan (ph), you are the hazmat coordinator here in Clark County. What are we looking at? What is the robot doing right now?

RICH BRENNAN, HAZMAT COORDINATOR, CLARK COUNTY: Chris, right now, it's going in. We're doing a training exercise with this. And it's actually going into a confined space and we have a mannequin inside here and we're using the arm, with an atmospheric monitor, to determine what's the air inside there, what our oxygen levels are. It has to go over some debris that we put in front of it. It's going to have to bring that arm in to actually identify what are -- see the yellow box right there?

LAWRENCE: Yes.

BRENNAN: That's the atmospheric monitor. That's what actually measures the air inside that confined space.

LAWRENCE: So you can read how the oxygen levels are, how safe it is in there.

BRENNAN: That's correct.

LAWRENCE: And I see in this case there is a training, a mannequin training, but if that was an actual victim, could you communicate? Could you ask how they're doing, what the situation is there?

BRENNAN: Yes, Chris, this actually does have a microphone and a speaker system, so you can communicate if they are conscious and alert.

LAWRENCE: But, how far are we talking? I mean, a few hundred feet away from the actual robot or a thousand?

BRENNAN: Chris, at a thousand feet, you're only limited by the fiber optics on the rear of the vehicle.

LAWRENCE: This right here?

BRENNAN: Yes, that orange cable is the limiting factor.

LAWRENCE: Are there certain areas where the robot is going to have more trouble?

BRENNAN: In real muddy type environments, in a lot of rocks, you will have problems with it, mainly with the treads, you get better traction. This is a six-wheel drive robot. So, each one of these wheels has a motor. But it's only a tool. I mean, you're limited from the standpoint of what it can do. And you know, and so when you get to a real harsh environment, it's going to have a hard time getting over it.

LAWRENCE: In other words, the machine like man, is not perfect. Unfortunately, for the miners down there. But it is a really a revolutionary device. And I mean, if you look at what it can do, the possibility there, is that it could definitely be a help in certain situations.

For now, I'm Chris Lawrence reporting from Las Vegas, Nevada. Back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: In this situation, right now, what is happening underneath the ground is that there are five rescue teams walking on foot. It is not a robot, it is not a high-tech device. It is manpower, miners trying to save miners' lives. They have found the body of one miner. They are trying to replenish their oxygen supply, is the last we were told. But that information now is about two hours old or so. So it is very likely that the rescue operation has begun again, that they are trying to probe this last 1,000 or 2,000 feet of the mine to try to find the location of where these 12 miners are.

Coming up, we're going to have more on the latest on the rescue efforts. We're also going to take a look at what life is like here

COOPER: And it has begun again that they are trying to probe this last 1,000 or 2,000 feet of the mine to try to find the location of where these 12 miners are. Coming up we're going to have more on the latest on the rescue efforts.

We're also going to take a look at what life is like here in coal country. Coming up on 360, fathers and sons working under the earth, generation after generation. That story when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, if you are just joining us, we are in West Virginia, covering the mine rescue mission that is going on. Let's review where things stand and look back at other stories that are making headlines at this moment.

Here at Sago Mine, at about 9 p.m. Eastern Time officials announced the discovery of one body, 12 other miners remain missing. But just a few moments ago West Virginia's governor held out hope for them, because there is new evidence suggesting that the remaining miners had the chance to flee and seek refuge.

Also tonight, across the Atlantic, another rescue mission has resumed. German authorities are again searching for a mother and her three children who are trapped under the collapsed roof of a skating rink. Eleven bodies have been recovered so far, there.

And hour ago the school board in Dover, Pennsylvania ended its policy of presenting the concept of intelligent design to high school biology students. Last month a federal judge had ruled that it was biblical creationism in disguise. Most of the school board members who had championed the policy had been voted out of office.

We are covering this disaster here in West Virginia. Standing in this place, in the chilly dark, you realize one thing about -- above all, it is not just about 13 miners who have been trapped by the explosion here. The entire town has been trapped in an agony of waiting, of anxiety, of helplessness. CNN's Randi Kaye has their story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): You're looking at the Sago Baptist Church; that is where much of the families have gathered while they wait to find out the fate of their loved ones, who are trapped in the mines.

They are keeping the media back here, about 500 feet. A lot of the media has now been cleared out, because if you look over there, you can see that there is actually a private home, which is on the property here.

Both the families and the residents here are getting tired of the media, so they pushed them back over to there. If you look across the way, right here, that is the mountain, where the face of the mine is.

(Voice over): And if you head up the road about a mile, you'll find where they process the coal.

(On camera): All you have to do is follow this railroad track from the Sago Mine and you run into this. Look at that river, it's a beautiful river. It runs right up to the mine. A lot of fishing here in this community. Upshur County is a population of about 20,000 or so and there is lot of recreational activity here, a lot of hunting, a lot of fishing, a lot of tourism. And also, a lot of retirees.

(Voice over): Upshur County is Congresswoman Shelly Moore Capito's district.

REP. SHELLY MOORE CAPITO, UPSHUR CO.: Well, we're probably about seven miles, maybe, from downtown Buchannan (ph). Buchannan is a very small, rural town.

KAYE: Buchannan is the closest town to the Sago Mine. From the mine we took Sago Road and headed south, along the way, rolling hills, farms, lush landscape spotted with wild turkeys. Also, plenty of reminders there are miners in trouble.

CAPITO: It is probably one of those two or three stop light towns that you see all over rural America. This is a very quite part of West Virginia. And I think they like to keep it that way.

KAYE: No chance with the media coverage the mine accident is getting. Dozens of media outlets from around the country are snarling up town. Like everyone else, here, waiting for word.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: And the word we got tonight, of course, was not good, that one of the trapped miner's bodies was found. That is leading to a deterioration in the mood here, Anderson. Some of the families who are at the church, not only are they having a difficult time with the mining company, but also with the media.

In fact, as you know, we're being kept back about 500 feet from that Sago Baptist Church. And some of the reporters have gone around into the woods trying to get at those families. And we understand today that one of the family members actually chased a reporter through the woods to try to keep them away from that church.

COOPER: As well they should. I certainly understand that motivation. Randi, appreciate that.

Joe Tallman of the Washington District Volunteer Fire Department was the first man on the scene when the call came in on the mining emergency here in West Virginia. He joins me now.

Joe, when you first got here did you know what you were dealing with?

JOE TALLMAN, WASH. DIST., VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPT.: No, when we were paged for an EMS assist. Assist the county emergency medical squad with an unknown medical at the Sago Mine, which is standard procedure. Our fire department is about three miles away.

Had EMTs en route, halfway there, we got a call that there was entrapment in the mine, which changes everything. We cannot go in the mine -- that's we are not allowed to do so. We responded to the scene. Pulled in, mine management told us they had some people that were injured that had got out of the mine. So two of my EMTs worked on those two or three --

COOPER: What kind of injuries did you see?

TALLMAN: Oh, just scrapes and bruises, basically it looked like flying rocks, maybe hit their face.

COOPER: These were from some of the miners who had been down there during the initial explosion?

TALLMAN: Right, exactly. Some of the miners that were, from what I can understand were on a second man trip going into the mine. Which is, from what I can understand, they had gotten about halfway in and the explosion happened.

COOPER: Right.

TALLMAN: So, instead of being 30 miners in there, they were only 15 in there.

COOPER: When you got on the scene, did you realize, you know, this is going to be a long -- this is going to be a big deal?

TALLMAN: Yes, any time -- and normally we don't have this kind of stuff in Tallmansville, West Virginia. We, thankfully, it is something that is a big deal whenever you hear miners trapped. And you don't have anybody in contact with them, the waiting part of it is the hardest, because you cannot do anything, at all. We can't go in the mines, the miners have already made the arrangements, the mine personnel, to bring in rescue crews from the Eastern Seaboard, and at that time, they were already in route, most of them. COOPER: There are probably going to be some people -- well, (INAUDIBLE) is saying is, why can't you guys go in the mine, it is just a matter of training?

TALLMAN: It's training, The fact that you don't want to send four or five guys into a mine that is -- has an explosion, with gas levels, another possibility of another explosion. We're not trained for that. Federal and state regulations prohibit us from doing so.

COOPER: Got it.

TALLMAN: So, we look at it this way: You have guys that can do this job. You have guys who can do it safely. We will take care of the outside stuff. You get the guys here to take the guys out.

COOPER: So when -- what happens -- what is your role now? I mean, if -- when these miners are found, one way or another, what role do you play?

TALLMAN: Well, we are kind of like a go around, I call it. Anything that needs to be done, if the press needs something, if the families need something, if they need equipment moved, if they need vehicles moved. If they need anything -- water, my tanker hauled water to the drilling rigs, that drilled the holes into the thing. My other tanker hauled water to the other side.

COOPER: You're the go-to guy.

TALLMAN: We're the go-to guys. You know, I've got other fire department members here. Other fire departments helped us out. Even though we're first due, Adrian is second due, Buchannan was here. We've got guys from Phillipa, we've got guys from other departments in the county.

COOPER: Are you and all-volunteer department?

TALLMAN: All volunteer department, yes.

COOPER: That's amazing. And how long have you been doing that?

TALLMAN: I've been a fire chief about 20 years. I've been a firefighter for about 35, 36 years.

COOPER: Why do you do it?

TALLMAN: Help somebody. It gets in your blood and we're all family. We'll fight among ourselves, like anybody else, but when it comes down to something like this we're going to work hand in hand to rectify the situation. We cannot do what we want to do, basically, and have every thing come out right. We already know there is one fatality, hopefully the other 12, 13 guys will come out on their own. If so, we're going to move on.

I mean, regardless, we would like to have it that way.

COOPER: Yes. TALLMAN: You guys will go away, and we appreciate your being here, your respect for us and our community has been great. We'd like to keep it that way. When you leave, we're going to go back to our life of a quaint little town and try to take care of business.

COOPER: Sir, its an honor to meet you. I appreciate all that you're doing.

TALLMAN: Thank you, Sir. Appreciate your time. Thank you.

COOPER: I appreciate you being on the scene.

TALLMAN: OK.

COOPER: All right.

We are also following another major story tonight, the wildfires that are plaguing the Midwest, burning out of control in Texas. Oklahoma seems to be a little bit better. The weather forecast is only adding to the concerns however tonight. We're going to have the latest right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back. We are covering this mine accident as it happens. There you see some of the families and first responders just waiting by the fire. It is a very cold night here in Upshur County, West Virginia; a cold night that is going to be a very long night for the families waiting. We heard from the governor just a short time ago that this is probably going to take longer than they had anticipated.

But we are anticipating some sort of news it could be in the next hour, it could be in this hour, out of that mine. We know -- we are waiting to find out if the 12 remaining miners are alive.

Dozens of communities across the Southern Plains are also waiting for help at this hour. Days of raging wildfires have destroyed hundreds of homes, consumed half a million acres and the greatest weapon to fight the flames, rain, is no where in sight. CNN's Rob Marciano reports on the growing natural and man-made disaster.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST (voice over): Today state officials in Oklahoma continue to worry about six fires. In Texas their attention is on two. One of which has already affected 40,000 acres. For nearly a week residents of Texas and Oklahoma have hoped for rain. It hasn't come. Instead, heavy warm and dry wind gusts, up to 40 miles per hour have continued to blow from the west, replacing hope with anxiety.

It is the combination of these elements and a couple of sparks that have destroyed several small towns. Right now officials are too busy fighting the fires to know what caused them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say the majority of the fires are accidental fires.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lots of Christmas lights and candles and heaters and -- it's just that time of year.

MARCIANO: Regardless of what has caused the fires, since November flames have scorched roughly 700,000 acres. Almost the same size as Rhode Island. Countless firefighting trucks have been dispatched.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many of these firefighters out there, particularly in the rural areas, have been working day and night for 10 days now. And it has been very taxing.

MARCIANO: It's been like a stealth enemy. Hit and run fires everywhere, like this one in Bristow, Oklahoma. More than 460 homes and business have been destroyed across Oklahoma and Texas. In Cross Plains, Texas, population 1,000, the United Methodist Church was destroyed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've been coming here for 22 years. So, both my kids were baptized in this church.

MARCIANO: On Sunday, with folding chairs, the congregation prayed next to the charred remains of their church. It would have been 120 years old this year.

In Ringgold, Texas, population 200, a New Year's Day fire wiped out 80 percent of the town, including the post office and Carolyn Grissom's home.

CAROLYN GRISSOM, LOST HOME IN FIRE: The way this community is, if somebody has a hardship everybody jumps in.

MARCIANO: Homes may be gone, but the people are OK.

GOV. RICK PERRY, (R) TEXAS: You go through this town, there is a number of business and people who have lost everything that they have.

MARCIANO (on camera): In here Ringgold, little hot spots continue to smolder behind me. Earlier today the fire chief told us that this fire may have been caused two power lines being blown around in the wind and touching each other, causing sparks to fall to this very, very dry grass.

There is some weather relief on the way. During the day, on Wednesday, we should see cooler temperatures and higher levels of humidity. Rob Marciano, CNN, Ringgold, Texas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Erica Hill, from Headlines News, joins us with some of the other stories we are following tonight.

Hey, Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN NEWS ANCHOR, HEADLINE NEWS: Hey, Anderson, we begin in Washington, where lawmakers are on edge tonight, after a former prominent lobbyist pleads guilty to conspiracy, fraud, and tax evasion charges.

Jack Abramoff has connections to top Republican leaders in Washington, as well as some Democrats. He has now agreed to help with the Justice Department investigation that could snag several members of Congress. Sources tell CNN Abramoff my have thousands of e-mails in which he details just what lawmakers did in exchange for his money.

In Iraq, the U.S. military investigating reports that one of its airstrikes killed six civilians. It was part of a series of strikes on Monday, targeting insurgents north of Baghdad. A spokesman for the local provincial government says the attack flattened a family's home.

And the Pentagon is planning to spend $100s of millions to fix a problem that has plagued military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, a language problem. Very few of the 155,000 troops in Iraq speak Arabic, which means they have plenty of trouble talking with the locals. And besides Arabic, the Army also wants a greater number of troops experienced in Pashti (ph), Chinese and Korean. The Pentagon is planning for more language instruction in military academies.

COOPER: All right. Erica Hill, thanks very much.

Tonight a small community finds itself on edge and in the national spotlight. After the break, what life is like here in coal country, and the latest on the rescue efforts to find the 12 miners still missing. This is 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Wow. The families, we are told, are screaming, some family members screamed that 12 people were found alive. That is -- we cannot confirm that. There is a lot of hugging going on. One eyewitness is telling me right now --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hugging and crying and screaming, 12 alive! 12 alive!

COOPER: A number of people have been yelling and screaming, 12 alive, 12 alive.

(MAN SHOUTING IN THE DISTANCE)

COOPER: Sir, what have you heard? Please come tell us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Terry. Come on up, this is a friend of Terry Helms.

COOPER: You're a friend of Terry Helms. Terry was -- what have you heard?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They just come out of the mines, they say we got 12 alive. It's good news.

COOPER: Where did you -- who told you that? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They just came out of the mines and sent an official down, said we got 12 alive. They're going in now with -- going in now with the rescue crews. But that body has not been identified yet. So, we got 12.

COOPER: But -- but -- and they're still in the mine at this point?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This point they're still in the mine. Coming their way out with the rescue crews.

COOPER: You've been waiting for word on Terry for so long, did you think this could happen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we can't forget we got one dead. OK? So, 12 families going to go home happy tonight.

COOPER: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, that's about all I can say right now, 'til I find out more.

COOPER: All right. Hey, I appreciate it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.

COOPER: Thank you.

That is incredible news. Again, if this turns out to be true, we have not been able to independently confirm this. But the family members have been told, a number of family members have been told, we're not clear on who exactly told them, but a mine official is traditionally the ones who tell them this information, that the 12 miners are alive.

The governor of West Virginia, we are told, just walked out of the church, held up his thumb and said, "Believe in miracles. Believe in miracles." For the last two days, for the last 48 -- 40 hours he has been saying miracles do happen here in West Virginia. And it appears tonight a miracle has truly happened in West Virginia. Randi Kaye is standing by.

Randi, this is an extraordinary development.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Unbelievable. We never expected, many of these families, of course, they held out hope. The governor here certainly talking about the miracle, that they do happen. He is saying that again tonight. He's saying that again.

COOPER: I mean, talk about a roller coaster, a few hours ago, it was a grim-faced governor we saw going by us. He wouldn't even talk. Officials seemed downbeat. And then all of a sudden about an hour ago, when the governor came out and spoke, he seemed much more optimistic.

KAYE: Absolutely. And, Anderson, earlier today, we walked up to the church. They weren't allowing a lot of the media there, but as you can see these are the families that we're looking at. They're celebrating.

COOPER: Look at this scene.

KAYE: So nice to see such a different scene than what we saw when we went up there today, in our media gear, and in our CNN jackets. Nobody would even look at us. It was a terrible scene. You could see it on their faces. They certainly weren't expecting the miracle that, apparently, has happened here tonight.

And that is such a wonderful joy that they appear to be experiencing there, just outside the Sago Baptist Church.

COOPER: I'll tell you when the church bells started ringing, I mean, we knew something was going on. We had not heard those church bells -- I had not heard that. Had you heard those in the 40 hours?

KAYE: No, and I'm not sure if that was something that they had planned, if that would be a signal to the community, or even to the church goers or to the families here. But it was certainly a welcome sound and right away the cars started to move here along the road and people started running. The people who have been waiting in their cars were running toward the church. The ambulances that were in that area started to move toward the mine.

COOPER: What you are looking at is the dozens and dozens of people who have been sequestered inside that church. Many of them have slept there. It has been now some 41 hours or so since this incident began. Those people have been inside the church on and off, families coming and going. Some would return home for a short period of time. And others, the family of Terry Helms, we know, a lot of them have just stayed here on the site, for all of these 41 hours or so.

And, again, the gentleman we just had on, is a friend of Terry Helms. And there is some concern tonight about, of course, one miner, we know has died. So, the question, of course, for one family, this is a night of heartbreak. But for 12 other families, as you see there, it is just -- it is exhaustion and relief and joy all rolled into one.

KAYE: And such relief, Anderson, after thinking that all this time has gone by, 40 hours or so, and they were believing that with each hour that passed or with each minute that passed what were the odds that these men would be found alive? Finding that the carbon monoxide, the levels were triple what they should have been.

COOPER: Ken Tucker is standing down there by where the families are. Ken? He's a booker for CNN.

Ken, what can you tell us.

KENNETH TUCKER, CNN: You're hearing the screaming in the background. That is absolute joy and euphoria here. People are hugging each other, people are singing, people are holding hands and just ecstatic with their hands up in the air. It is amazing.

We're looking for -- we have people just -- older people standing up and now they're singing a hymnal here?

People are crying and still jumping up and down, and hugging. It looks like some of the families are being reunited as we --

TUCKER: You can hear some of the excitement. And we've seen grown men hugging and crying. It is really a moving and amazingly moving sight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, great!

COOPER: Let's just listen to the sounds for some time.

TUCKER: OK. It is just, I mean, your seeing a ton of -- a grown man hugging and crying and you can hear some of the excitement.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So cool!

TUCKER: There is a section of folks off to the side who do not -- who are not looking as happy as the other folks and I can only -- I assume that we will soon know the identity of the miner who passed.

COOPER: Ken, are you hearing anything at this point about where the 12 miners are or about their status?

TUCKER: I am not. They are waiting for -- there are only a few smattering of officials up here. I don't -- it is really the media is just talking to the family folks. There are no officials spokesmen. The governor zipped down the hill. And had his finger in the air and said believe in miracles. And he took off, and hopefully he'll be down near you soon.

COOPER: This area, this part, this area outside the church which has been a scene of such anxiety and fear and hope for 41 or so hours, is now a scene of pure joy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (in background): You better get out of here now. We need you to get out of here now.

COOPER: So here is what we know of the rescue effort. This is the last information that we have. They had found one body at the part of the mine where the mine turns to the left, veers to the left. That body, that person has still not been identified. We are still waiting word on who that person was.

We know now that 12 miners have been found alive somewhere, veering left, somewhere about 700 feet -- well, 700 feet where that body was found, was the car, the battery operated vehicle that brings miners into the mine everyday and brings them out of the mine every day.

An optimistic note was expressed by the governor. We are anticipating a press conference at any moment now. We of course will bring that to you live as we continue to bring you the scene outside the church here, the small Baptist church in Sago, West Virginia. It is truly a remarkable moment.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

Search
© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by CNN.com
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines