Complicating an already difficult situation for miners' families, rescuers know that there are 14 bodies of deceased miners still inside the mine, and four other miners whose whereabouts are unknown. But, rescuers did not identify the 14 bodies -- so, Manchin said, there are really 18 families who don't know for sure if their loved ones are alive or dead.
"This is the unknown fact, and it really adds a lot of anxiety," the governor said.
Any chance of survival hinged on the miners using self-contained self-rescuers, or SCSRs, to make their way to refuge chambers stocked with enough air, food and water to last for four days.
An SCSR is a breathing apparatus that generates about an hour's worth of oxygen. In the event of a catastrophe, miners are trained to first try to get out of the mine. If they can't, the next step is to make their way to a rescue chamber and hunker down.
Rescuers made an initial foray into the mine Monday night, but by early Tuesday were forced to pull out when they detected toxic and highly explosive gas levels underground. During that time, searchers were able to check one refuge chamber, which was empty.
They did discover that three SCSRs had been removed from emergency stockpiles, leading rescuers to believe that at least some miners had survived the initial blast.
In the meantime, workers drilled one ventilation shaft down 1,100 feet into the mine, with two additional holes near completion. Using large fans, they used the borehole to pump gas out of the mine so that rescuers could go back in.
Early Thursday, safety officials said the mine was again safe for rescuers, and four eight-man teams renewed their search for survivors.
The drawn-out, agonizing vigil brought back memories of the Sago disaster, in which 12 miners died after a methane gas explosion in the Upshur County mine in January 2006.
In the wake of Sago, and the death of two miners in a fire at Massey Energy's Aracoma mine days later, Congress passed the MINER Act, which required mine operators to update and improve their communication and tracking equipment.
The legislation also required the installation of SCSRs and refuge chambers in mines.
Critics of the MINER Act contend that it places too much emphasis on surviving a catastrophe after it occurs, rather than preventing it.
Manchin has promised a full state investigation into Monday's explosion, while Rep. Nick Rahall, the West Virginia Democrat whose district includes the state's southern coalfields, said Congress will hold hearings as well.
While the cause of the blast remains unknown, Stricklin grimly conceded earlier this week that the tragedy was preventable.
"We know it wasn't operating safely," he said, "or we wouldn't have had an explosion."
Staff writer Andrew Clevenger contributed to this report.
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