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Robot effort delayed, county braces for economic backlash

Sun Advocate reporter

Mani Grewal of Sanpete County presents Kim Martino of Pierce Oil with a check for over $2,000. Grewal, who is a small business owner in Sanpete County reported that after the events of Aug. 16 he could not sleep. The next morning he awoke and committed to raise money for the families that have been affected by the mine disaster. Grewal went to Wal-Mart and procured 20 buckets which he took to every convenience store in Sanpete County. "We all share the same tragedy," said Grewal. "And we can all share the solution." During the end of his comments after donating the check, Grewal called for major corporations such as Exxon-Mobil and Shell to step up and offer drilling equipment to help in the rescue effort.

While the robotic camera attempts to overcome the mud and rock of Crandall Canyon, local economic aid, education and counseling organizations are scrambling to assist displaced coal mining workers.

Officials at the Utah Department of Workforce Services, division of vocational rehabilitation, Western Energy Training Center and College of Eastern Utah have banded to minimize the financial impact of 170 laid off miners in the Carbon-Emery area.

According to the eastern region vocational rehabilitation director Carol Rogers, information had been sent from the state office to West Ridge mine following the second collapse at Crandall Canyon on Aug 16.

Officials from all economic, vocational and educational agencies then conducted an emergency meeting on the morning of Aug. 27 to discuss the strategy for best helping the miners and their families.

"We are here to help these people," pointed out Rogers. "This whole situation including the tragedy and layoffs has affected not only the miners but their families and the community as a whole. We will be ready to help where we can."

For workforce services' part, DWS is preparing to have their Rapid Response agent in Carbon County on Aug. 30 at 10 a.m. in Price and at 1:30 p.m. in the Emery County office.

According to Nicole Steele, DWS business consultant in the Price office, the department can assist laid off miners with:

•Unemployment insurance.

•Medical insurance programs for children and adults.

•Job placement assistance for unemployed residents who are seeking a new vocation.

"It is up to them," said Steele when asked whether the department of workforce services has a stance concerning the path the laid off miners should take. "We don't steer them one way or another."

Steele reported that there has been a split among the displaced miners as to what they are going to do next.

"Some are planning to collect their unemployment insurance and hold out hope that they will be called back. Some are looking to work for a different mine and some are looking at the educational and vocational opportunities available to them," explained Steele. "And we will provide assistance however we can."

According to Steele, most of the displaced miners can receive the maximum amount of unemployment insurance which adds up to approximately $406 per week for 25 weeks.

Steele, however, cautioned the miners that the insurance is assessed on a person wages from April 2006 to March 2007. Therefore, employees who started in the coal mines after March 2007 might not receive the maximum amount of insurance.

In addition to the DWS services, vocational rehabilitation can provide educational and vocational assistance for eligible individuals who require re-training for new employment options.

According to Rogers, some circumstances that could make the laid off miners eligible for the program include; physical issues that tend to show up after years of labor intensive work, any learning disabilities that these individuals may have and possibly post traumatic stress resulting from the disaster.

"With post traumatic stress, a lot of times people don't even know that something is happening to them," commented Rogers. "They have nightmares that won't go away and they don't know why. They get depressed and have problems with anxiety. In situations like this, where tragedy and trauma have occurred PTSD could be the root of the problem. It is a condition that needs to be addressed so the individuals can move on with their lives by learning how to cope with and eliminate these symptoms."

As for the continuing rescue effort MSHA and rescue officials have had a difficult time getting their robotic camera into the mine. According to Jack Kuzar of MSHA the robot was pulled out of one of the drill holes 10 feet from its destination. Problems with consistent rainfall has made the project all the more difficult, officials said.

The MSHA spokesperson reported that drill hole number seven will now be the target for the device but that hole will most likely not be completed until Aug. 30.

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