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Rescuers struggle to drill relief holes for Utah miners

HUNTINGTON, Utah -- Rescue crews clinging to a mountainside struggled yesterday to drill two narrow holes -- one just 2.5 inches across, the other less than 9 inches -- in a painfully slow effort to bring air and food to six miners trapped in a cave-in.

Officials held out hope that the men survived Monday's thunderous collapse and that the emergency supplies would help keep them alive while other rescuers tried to punch their way through the rubble in the mine shaft and bring them out.

The crews drilling the two parallel relief holes made encouraging progress yesterday and could break through by today, said Bob Murray, chairman of mine co-owner Murray Energy Corp.

"I consider this to be very, very good news," he said.

But it could take at least seven days to actually reach the men and bring them out, Murray said.

The drilling of the relief holes involved boring an extraordinary 1,500 feet straight down, or 150 stories into the earth, through hard sandstone -- a task that required precise alignment of the drill and posed the constant risk of a broken bit.

Nothing has been heard from the men since the cave-in, not even the hammering on the ceiling that miners are trained to do in an emergency.

The parallel effort to clear a path inside the blocked mine suffered a major setback Tuesday when seismic shocks wiped out all progress in removing rubble.