- (Photo: AP Images / Mark Humphrey)
- (Photo: AP Images / Jeff Gentner, Pool)
The search for four missing miners in Naoma, W. Va., came to another halt on Friday after rescuers encountered smoke.
With the possibility of an explosion, the rescue crews were ordered to evacuate. Safety officials are now pumping nitrogen into the mine to inert the atmosphere.
"I don't need to tell you all how difficult this is for all of us, especially for families," said Governor Joe Manchin at a press conference.
The rescue teams were pulled out before they could reach a second airtight chamber where many are hoping to find the missing miners.
It's been five days now since the tragic explosion on Monday at Upper Big Branch mine that took the lives of at least 25 workers. Local pastors have issued prayers and urged their congregations to continue to provide prayer support for the affected families.
West Virginia native Bishop T.D. Jakes on Wednesday offered his "sincere condolences" to those impacted by the coal mining tragedy. Married to a coal miner's daughter, Jakes said he and his wife are "deeply moved by the tragedy."
"Although no words can erase the unfathomable pain that so many are feeling today, we are holding the families, friends and loved ones in our prayers during this difficult time," said Jakes, who pastors The Potter's House in Dallas, one of the largest churches in the country.
The West Virginia Council of Churches has, meanwhile, created the Montcoal Mining Disaster Fund to assist the families. It has also set up a virtual bell on its website to toll 25 times for each life lost in the mining blast.
Just before his death, Josh Napper had accepted Jesus into his heart on Easter Sunday.
Napper had distanced himself from church but when an altar call was made that day, he "jumped up out of there and he went and got saved," his mother, Pam Napper, recalled to CNN.
Pam remembers her son telling her that he was going to hold on to God like he never held on to Him before.
Later that day he left his girlfriend, Jennifer, a letter. It partly stated: "If anything happens to me, I'll be looking down from heaven at you all. I love you. Take care of my baby. Tell her that daddy loves her, she's beautiful, she's funny. And just take care of my baby girl."
As families of the four missing miners await news, Governor Manchin described them as "the toughest people" who have a lot of faith and are just "holding on and praying." Even in the midst of their own pain, the families have also expressed concern for the safety of the rescuers, Manchin noted to the Today Show.
The rescue teams hope to get back in the mine Friday afternoon to resume their search.