Three rescue workers attempting to reach six trapped miners in Utah were killed, while at least another six were injured during a sudden cave-in Thursday evening.
It was the second cave-in since the rescue operation began more than a week and a half ago, but the first time that lives were lost. The rescue workers were trying to tunnel their way to a cavity where they thought the miners were located after "noise" was heard earlier on Thursday.
"It just feels like a really hard blow to swallow after all we've been through the last week and a half and everyone trying to hope in their own individual way," Huntington Mayor Hilary Gordon said in telephone interview Friday with CNN's "American Morning."
Meanwhile, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said the three who died did so in a "remarkable act of selflessness," according to CNN.
"There is nothing more selfless than giving one's life while rescuing another," Huntsman said.
The Utah governor also vowed to improve mine safety not only in his state but across the nation.
One of the killed rescuers was an inspector for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. His name is not known and the details of the other deaths were not available early Friday, according to The Associated Press.
Crandall Canyon mine is said to be a "live mountain" with occasional "mountain bumps," or shifting grounds which cause chunks of rocks to fall from the wall. Seismologists believe the cave-in on Thursday and on the original one on Aug. 6 was caused by such bumps.
"These events seem to be related to ongoing settling of the rock mass following the main event" said Lee Siegel, spokesman of the University of Utah seismograph station in Salt Lake City, according to AP. "I don't think I'm going too far to say that this mountain is collapsing in slow motion."
The Aug. 6 bump was registered a 3.9 while the recent bump registered 1.6.
Before the cave-in, rescuers detected a "noise" or vibration which many hoped was an indication that the miners were still alive. However, officials say it's impossible to know the cause of the vibration because of the limitations of the sound equipment.
The underground rescue search is halted for now as federal officials consider whether it would be safe to send more workers.
"The seismic activity underground has just been relentless. The mountain is still alive, the mountain is still moving and we cannot endanger the rescue workers as we drive toward these trapped miners," said Bob Murray, chief of Murray Energy Corp., the co-owner and operator of the Crandall Canyon mine.
However, rescuers are continuing above ground work drilling a fourth hole through which they hope to put a camera down.
The trapped men are: Louis Alonso Hernandez, 23; Manuel Sanchez, 41; Kerry Allred, 57; Carlos Payan, in his 20s; Brandon Phillips, 24; and Don Erickson, 50.
The miners' families are said to be praying for their survival while The Salvation Army has deployed its kitchen trailer and canteens to serve meals and drinks to rescuers and volunteers responding to the disaster.
Since Aug. 9, The Salvation Army has served over 1,600 meals, averaging more than 300 meals per day.
"The Salvation Army will be in Huntington as long as we're needed," said Mike Gelski, The Salvation Army Metro Denver EDS (Emergency Disaster Services) Coordinator.