I find myself wondering how many people reading this are going "Pike River what?" I know Kiwis will be familiar with it but I often wonder how much of our news reaches the rest of the world. So for those of you who don't know, I'm going to talk about it. Kiwis, feel free to skip.
That didn't happen here.
The mine in Chile was a rock (copper/gold) mine and it suffered from a cave-in, trapping miners but otherwise not endangering them. Pike River is a coal mine with associated natural gas hazards, and it was a gas explosion which may have killed or trapped miners, and then proceeded to fill the mine with toxic and volatile gases.
This explosion happened last Friday afternoon. Shortly afterwards, two men walked out of the mine, leaving 29 people trapped inside. Nobody knew whether they were alive or dead and calls to emergency phones within the mine went unanswered. Rescue efforts have been stymied by dangerous levels of gas within the mine and fear of another explosion. Robots were sent in but ran out of batteries before reaching anywhere useful. A specialist robot was sent from Australia but there was fear it would not be able to get around an abandoned loader left in there by one of the men who survived, and the loader would have to be moved by people for exploration to proceed. Throughout this time, there was no contact with anyone inside the mine to determine if anyone survived, and hope dwindled.
Yesterday, drilling into the area of the mine where the men were believed to be finally broke through. This allowed more precise measurement of gas levels and was the first real breakthrough in terms of maybe sending in a rescue team.
Shortly after this there was a second, larger explosion. All 29 men are now presumed dead and the rescue mission has turned to a recovery one.
Here's something from the BBC website explaining the main differences between this and Chile.
Of course the biggest difference is that in Chile, everyone lived. Here, everyone died. The oldest was 62, the youngest, 17.
Of course, questions will be asked. Why was it possible for gas to build up to explosive levels? Where were the safety measures that are supposed to prevent this? They used to keep canaries in mines for this purpose, but that practice stopped last century. There will be enquiries and committees and changes, no doubt, to health and safety regulations.
But right now, New Zealand is in shock and the main focus is to try and recover the bodies of the miners.
For some reason this is affecting me more than Anita's death. Ostensibly, I knew her better - she was my people even though I wasn't her close friend. Her death I felt mostly through its effect on those I care about, but I can't - and feel free to berate me for this - feel bad about her decision, which I see as a valid one in the circumstances she was facing and not all that different from my mother choosing to stop fighting in the circumstances she was facing, you know?
But these miners did not choose to die, and for some reason I'm plagued by the thought of what their last moments must have been like. I have a tremendous fear of being underground even though earth is my element. My gut tells me that people do not belong there, and they were there, and now they are dead. And it all seems so unnecessary.
I haven't even started to process what happened in Cambodia yet.
I know that tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the US. Please, while you're hanging out with your families with all the joy and drama that goes with that, spare a thought for the families of the Pike River miners and the people in Cambodia, and be thankful you still have yours.