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Miners' Families: 'It's Hard Waiting'

They stayed awake all night, sitting in their SUVs and pickup trucks and listening to the roar of diesel engines from emergency vehicles and TV news trucks, only to hear discouraging news early Tuesday.

The family members of 13 trapped coal miners, who had waited in a muddy field and at a Baptist church near the mine's entrance, learned that air quality tests showed high carbon monoxide levels in the mine — 1,300 parts per million, exceeding the 400 parts per million maximum safe level.

"Obviously, it was devastating," said Nick Helms, who's 50-year-old father, Terry, is among the trapped miners. But he said his father once told him that mine air tests could be deceiving because safer levels could be just a short distance away.

A red-eyed Donald Marsh waited beneath a tent across from the mine where his half brother, Jim Bennett was trapped. He was unwilling to give up hope.

"They ain't back were the fall is, so you don't know," Marsh said. "But that don't sound good."

They had been waiting in the misty rain for any news about the progress of mine rescue crews trying to locate their fathers, brothers, uncles and sons, who were trapped early Monday 260 feet below the surface of the Sago Mine. The mine is about 100 miles northeast of Charleston.

"It's hard waiting," said Tambra Flint, whose 26-year-old son Randal McCloy was trapped in the mine.

Flint stayed at the mine overnight, making her way to the closest entrance and staring into the blackness.

Daniel Merideth, son-in-law of Alby Martin Bennett, who had planned to retire this year, also stayed at the site. He said he didn't sleep at all, preferring to sit under a tent near the mine's entrance.

Every few hours, the group of a couple hundred family members and friends were briefed by mine officials.

"We don't want them to hear something from the media first," said Gene Kitts, a senior vice president for International Coal Group Inc. of Ashland, Ky.

Many of those waiting sat shivering on folding chairs under large tents set up by the Red Cross. They drank coffee, soda and ate pizza.

Nearby, some families arranged lawn chairs in circles near their cars and held an all-night vigil. Some sat covered in gray or blue blankets as spot lights set up by emergency officials lit up the area.

Marlene Nutter, whose friend Terry Helms was in the mine, said faith was keeping many people at the mine site.

"You can always have hope," Nutter said. "We're praying for the best."

Lila Muncy, McCloy's younger sister, said prayer is important in the close-knit community.

Before her brother went into the mine each day he told his wife, "God is with you," Muncy said.

"We were always raised to have faith," she said. "I'm not going anywhere until I see my brother's face."