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500 family mourn at site of New Zealand mine disaster

A fleet of white buses today ferried 500 friends and family of the 29 men killed in a New Zealand mine explosion to the remote colliery where they lie entombed.

world Updated: Nov 28, 2010 09:32 IST

A fleet of white buses today ferried 500 friends and family of the 29 men killed in a New Zealand mine explosion to the remote colliery where they lie entombed.

Many were carrying large bunches of flowers as well as photos of their loved ones on the poignant journey to the Pike River mine, eight days after the disaster and on the second anniversary of the opening of the mine.

The visit, organised by the mining company, would help grieving families deal with the loss, said Laurie Drew, whose 21-year-old son Zen was killed.

"I went up there the other day and now my boys are going up, which is really good because it allows them to feel closer to their brother," Drew said. "We just want closure... then everyone can move on." The 29 men — who included two Australians, two Britons and a South African — were trapped 2.5 kilometres in the mine by a gas explosion on November 19.

As anxious rescuers waited for gas levels to drop so they could mount a search operation, a second and more powerful explosion last Wednesday ended any hope of finding survivors.

Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall said it could be weeks before the bodies are recovered as volatile gas levels remain dangerously high in the mine and there was a third explosion yesterday.

But, Whittall said they remained resolved to return the bodies to their families. Tony Kokshoorn, mayor of the tight-knit Grey District on the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island said a permanent monument was planned to remember the tragedy which left at least 13 children fatherless.

"It's important that we have memorials of the loved ones and the children in the future can have something tangible to say: 'My father, he was part of that. It wasn't in vain and he was part of the West Coast family'." he said. "The West Coast family is about coal running through the veins and a history of coalmining. And we have to accept a history of disasters that go with coal." Messages of sympathy have poured in from around the world and the All Blacks were to wear white armbands on their black jerseys in their rugby union Test against Wales in Cardiff today.

Captain Richie McCaw said the players wanted to express their "sympathies and feelings."