Blog - Broad: Pike River a gut-wrenching operation
Of course our first concern is for the 29 men trapped underground. The situation for them is bleak, and grows bleaker as each day and each hour rolls by.
The toll on the families of those men was very clear when I visited Greymouth yesterday. We can feel their frustration and anxiety, and only imagine what it is like to be in such a predicament. They are desperate to help their loved-ones; any number would stick on a mask and go into the tunnel themselves if it would help.
The gut-wrenching thing is it won't. These men are in a coal mine, not a copper or gold mine like the miners in Chile and Beaconsfield. The atmosphere is so volatile that any small error could cause another explosion, endangering the lives of rescuers and those awaiting rescue.
This is incredibly frustrating for everyone - police running the operation, mine staff and all those watching the drama unfold.
The strain is enormous. But now more than ever, we must stay focused on making sound decisions based on information and expert opinion.
Police is the lead agency for emergency management and search and rescue operations. For any operation in challenging terrain, be it an alpine rescue or down a mine, we enlist specialists who can provide us with the best possible advice.
In this case, we are holding teleconferences with mine experts around the world, including Australia and the US. I am assured we have access to the world's best brains and equipment.
Specialist police staff have gone to Greymouth to support the operations team. Liaison officers are working between Tasman District and Police Headquarters in Wellington; other officers are working with the victims' families. Staff are working flat-out to co-ordinate input from around the world, including advice and offers of equipment.
Meanwhile at Headquarters, another team is working round the clock on all the non-operational consequences of the disaster alongside people from the Defence Force, Department of Labour, Ministry of Social Development, Crown lawyers, Treasury and politicians. We must be prepared for every next step, such as a commission of inquiry.
Police is tasked with emergency management but we are also tasked with maintaining public safety. We cannot allow people to put themselves in harm's way, though my heart goes out to those who would willingly risk the sacrifice.