Lm Otero  /  AP
Relatives of trapped miners wait outside the main gate of the Pasta de Conchas No. 8 coal mine in San Juan de Sabinas, Mexico, on Tuesday. 
By Don Teague Correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/21/2006 4:14:12 PM ET 2006-02-21T21:14:12

SAN JUAN DE SABINAS, Mexico — The main entrance to the Pasta de Conchos coal mine sits at the end of a mile-long road, exiting the highway from San Juan de Sabinas.

The blacktop is scarred. Heavy trucks and buses have formed deep grooves. The effect is like a wagon trail made of sun-baked asphalt.

On Tuesday, the side of this road was lined with hundreds of parked cars and pickups. They belong to relatives of the 65 trapped miners who have driven from across the northern state of Coahuila to join in a desperate vigil.

The 65 men were trapped more than a mile underground by a gas explosion Sunday at the mine. They carried only six hours of oxygen with them, but officials pinned their hopes on large fans that were pumping fresh air into the mine and sucking out dangerous gases.

A power outage on Tuesday briefly shut down the ventilation system, but the mine administrator said operators quickly shifted to an alternate diesel-powered system for ventilation.

Yet, officials have said throughout the disaster that there was no way of telling whether or not the oxygen was reaching the miners, and no survivors have been found.

So the relatives and friends of the trapped miners wait.

Many are wrapped in brightly colored blankets and ponchos and praying for a miracle.

Rafaela Castaneda’s husband has worked in the mine for 22 years. She’s here, camped near the mine’s main gate, watching for any sign of life.

“I’m keeping my faith in God,” she said, “that my husband, no, all of them, will come out.”

Sense of impending loss
It’s an uncomfortable existence — the realization of impending loss all too apparent. Women and children sob openly. Men carry the weight of hardship on their shoulders, their faces worn and weathered, expressing both strength and resignation.

“We are in a terrible situation,” one man said. “But, there is hope from all families. Hope has not been lost.”

When clergy members stand on a makeshift stage and offer prayers, those within hearing distance gather, heads bowed, some hands raised. They pray for the miracle that experts say is less likely with each passing hour.

There are volunteers here, too. Serving food and what comfort they can. Thirty students from a nearby nursing school circulate among the hundreds gathered.

Workers from neighboring mines have come to join in the rescue effort.

Staying put
Everyone stomps their feet. In the darkness, to fend off the cold. In the daylight to shake off the black coal dust that coats everything in sight. 

You can taste coal in the air here. It covers whatever stops moving — cars, grazing cattle, and people.

But, many of these people won’t move. They are unified by more than the coal dust, but by faith and family.

They are here, waiting at the end of a battered blacktop road, until 65 miners leave the depths of the earth one way or another. 

Don Teague is an NBC News Correspondent on assignment in San Juan de Sabinas, Mexico.

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