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It is hard to know what more to say. The Pike River disaster has been with us for more than a week and it is all we've talked about.

I was thinking about getting outside and mowing a lawn when my wife phoned from Auckland on Wednesday afternoon and asked if I'd heard the news. She told me of the huge blast at the mine that had ended everything.

Something about mining and mine disasters tears at our hearts.

Perhaps it's because of the perennial danger of the work and the historic nature of mining as a job. Mining is as old as time. Miners are brave men.

They go down shafts, deep into the earth, into the darkness or, in the case of Pike River, deep into the mountainside. For centuries they have worked in appalling conditions, in water and filth, mindful any minute they could be engulfed by fire and gas.

We feel so for them. If anything goes wrong, should there be a disaster they have only themselves to rely on, initially at least, and the hope people up top are swinging into action and are able to do something.

The Chilean miners were a couple of kilometres under the ground for 17 days before anyone knew they were alive. Their ultimate rescue with that little capsule that was painted like the Americans painted their rockets stopped the world. Honestly, was there anyone, anywhere in the world who did not watch that?

And it was Chile that inspired us to keep hoping this week.

It was not to be. It is hard to believe what happened. Twenty-nine men. That is a lot of men. And from small towns that really is a lot of men.

Can Greymouth ever recover emotionally? How long will it take? Can Runanga, that tiny coastal town where they have lost five men? Men in the prime of their lives.

I was looking at their faces, all of the 29 on the front page of a newspaper as I drank a coffee in Havelock North this week. I was looking at the ages: 21, 23, 27, 28, 31, 33 and, of course, that dear boy of 17, Joseph Dunbar, who was only there because he simply couldn't wait to start work in the mine on Monday so he started early on Friday.

What a terrible thing is fate. Life is just a roll of the dice. Life is timing. Sometimes your timing is just tragically wrong. My heart goes out to his lovely mother who says her boy was her everything. Life can be just too, too cruel.

Poor Runanga. My friend, television producer Julie Christie, comes from Runanga. So does my fellow columnist Leigh Hart who writes for this newspaper and is one of the funniest two or three people I've met in my life.

Hart's That Guy's World Cup, an online television production done in the foyer of the Poenamo hotel on Auckland's North Shore, was genuinely new and masterful comedy.

He invited me on as a guest. I watched a few episodes so that I knew what I was in for and couldn't believe what I was seeing. It was beautifully dry, ad-libbed comedy. There is plenty of the West Coast in Leigh.

The West Coast. Some years back, I went with a film crew to Cave Creek. The Coast has known its share of pain when you think back, hasn't it? And this week, as the Grey District Mayor, Tony Kokshoorn, said - and what a perfect spokesman for his people Tony has been - "this is the West Coast's darkest hour. This is our darkest hour."

That sudden news conference he gave after the families had been told that all hope was lost was gripping television and deeply moving. You could hardly breathe as you watched it.

But on that trip to Cave Creek, itself a beautiful place, I'll never forget that drive along the coast and the forlorn and windswept loveliness of it.

The other star this week was Peter Whittall, the chief executive of Pike River Mine. What a superb communicator he turned out to be, fluent, frank, honest and caring.

That was the best part of him, you knew he cared, that he loved and respected the men, that there was mining in his blood. From early morning until late at night right through the week there he was. I wonder if he slept at all, the poor man. How could you? How would you?

At the final news conference - after he had told the families it was all over, that the worst thing possible had happened and no one could have survived, and he clutched his wife's hand and his children were there - he too was very moving.

He is a natural communicator. I fear he may not fare well at the inquiry, however, simply because he will probably be the easiest target and this has the feeling of being a disaster for which people will want to apportion blame.

Indeed, some serious questions have to be asked. Did I get the wrong end of the stick or did it really take the two men who escaped the mine to advise management that there had been an explosion? Was that mine a methane hellhole, a disaster waiting to happen? And was the allegation made in this newspaper last weekend that Pike River's extraction of methane was extremely poor, correct?

Should it ever have been a tunnelled mine? Should it have been opencast for the methane to escape? As my colleague, Guyon Espiner, asked this week, have we saved the snails and killed the men?

But mainly the question will be whether Peter Whittall's safety practices were up to scratch. I mean, why in God's name did it take until Monday to get the Army's robot there? Why in God's name, in this mining country, did we have to get robots sent from Australia?

My God, but it's a terrible and wrenching thing that has happened. We can only feel for the wives and the partners and the mothers and the fathers and, most of all, the children. What a sad and life-changing week for them all.