On the afternoon of Friday the 19th of November 2010 there was an explosion in Pike River coal mine, 50km north-east of Greymouth, on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Initially I heard mixed reports about how many men were trapped inside. Two managed to crawl out, and eventually it became clear that there were twenty-nine still underground, about two and a half kilometres inside the mine. Nobody yet knows what actually triggered the explosion, but in deep coal mines there’s a lot of methane gas and coal dust, so any source of ignition is a real danger. Tests were done indicating that presence of toxic and flammable gas was still high, and there was a risk of further explosions, so no rescue team was able to be sent in for a number of days.
On Wednesday the 24th November, even as the time frame for when a rescue effort could be made was being discussed, there was a second, enormously larger explosion, certainly ruling out the possibility that these men could have survived. Twenty nine miners lost their lives. Thirteen children are now without a father.
Since then there has been a third blast, but this is more or less irrelevant as far as the fate of these men is concerned. This is a national tragedy and the thoughts and prayers of the nation – and certainly mine – are with the families of those involved.
When I say that it’s a national tragedy, I’m not just talking about the fact that it really is an awful loss for our nation (although of course it is), I’m also talking about the very public phenomenon of treating this like a tragedy. It made front pages everywhere. Outpourings of grief and support are coming from all quarters. The news broadcasts were saturated with the story – and still are. Parliament observed silence to mark the terrible event. It’s appropriate to mourn over this and to make it a tragedy that will be remembered.
I cannot begrudge those who mourn when tragedy strikes. They have a right to mourn. At the same time, it eats away at my respect for our status as a nation of humane people that as a nation we don’t bat an eyelid over the fact that on the day of the first explosion at Pike River, approximately forty-eight babies were killed. By the end of the day of the second explosion, that total had risen to about two hundred and eighty-eight. These were not accidents or workplace hazards. These were mothers who had made the choice to end the life of their unborn children rather than allow them to emerge.
Imagine a mine in New Zealand in which nearly fifty men entered every day, never to emerge alive again. Then imagine that they didn’t emerge because the mine owner made the choice that they wouldn’t. If you have a hard time trying to understand why pro-lifers make such a big deal over abortion, look at what our entire nation did when we lost twenty nine men. Last year abortion claimed over seventeen and a half thousand in New Zealand. The average was just over forty eight per day.
Yes we should mourn for those who are tragically lost – but we shouldn’t leave any out. Every single day is Pike River, and nobody mourns.
UPDATE: Shortly after posting this I became aware of Andy Moore’s excellent blog post on this same theme.