Recovery efforts for two men trapped in a mining landslide in Central Mississippi are moving forward. But local residents are concerned rescue operations are not proceding fast enough.
Hundreds gathered in downtown Crystal Springs last night to pray for Emmitt Shorter and James "Dee" Hemphill and their families. Shorter and Hemphill were working in the Green Brother’s Company Gravel Mine outside Crystal Springs Friday, when a slurry of mud and sand filled the gravel pit trapping the two workers.
Lee Smithson is the director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. Speaking outside the entrance to the mine, he told reporters last week’s cave-in was unprecedented.
“There hasn’t been that we can go and find any kind of rescue operation involving a track hoe, and articulating dump truck in that kind of consistency of slurry, essentially of quicksand,” says Smithson.
Emergency personnel worked over the weekend to recover the two miners to no avail. Crews originally tried using a 230-ton crane and excavator, but the nature of the slurry made that process virtually impossible. It wasn’t until Monday morning that recovery organizers began using pumps to remove the sludge from the pit.
The process has angered some who believe recovery efforts are moving too slowly. Jim Stewart is from Brookhaven.
“I just don’t seem to understand how MEMA is operating,” says Stewart. “I don’t know why, it’s not my business, but I’m just trying to find out why MEMA is not… They could have done more, I believe. That’s my opinion. I don’t think they did everything they could do.”
But MEMA's Lee Smithson says the current aim is to make sure recovery efforts are done in the safest way possible.
“The focus right now is on safety, and no one is going to rush this operation and risk the lives any of the other responders out here,” Smithson says.
Officials with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration declined to theorize how the landslide occurred.