West Virginia Coal Mine Explosion
Live reporting, pictures and video from the scene of today's mining disaster. (Updated reports, pictures and video will be added to the story as details are released).
Worst Coal Mining Disaster in WV since 1984
Confirmed reports say twenty-five miners are now confirmed dead and four accounted for in the methane gas explosion at the Massey mine this after. Earlier it was reported twelve miners had been killed and another dozen remain unaccounted for after an explosion rocked a Massey Energy underground coal mine in Raleigh County Monday afternoon, company officials have confirmed.
Those numbers continue to rise as more of the missing miners are found in the mine which is over 1000 feet underground.
The incident occurred around 3 p.m. at Massey subsidiary Performance Coal Co.'s Upper Big Branch Mine-South near Naoma an underground coal mine where 200 people are employed. The mine is located 30 miles from Charleston, West Virginia the capitol of our state.
Emergency and rescue crews are rushing to the scene, preparing for more injured workers. I spoke with rescue workers who are optimistic at this time and are ready to transport survivors to our local hospitals.
"Our prayers go out to the families of the miners," said Massey CEO Don Blankenship. "We want to assure the families of all the miners we are taking every action possible to locate and rescue those still missing."
Ron Wooten, director of the state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training, said his agency was still assessing the situation, but feared the death toll would be large.
"We have received information that there are several unaccounted for, perhaps as many as 21," Wooten said in a phone interview. "We have received a report that there are six fatalities."
Mine safety experts who had been in touch with state and federal investigators said they were told the explosion is believed to have involved methane inside a sealed area of the mine or methane that leaked out of the seals.
Such a scenario would be a repeat of the 2006 Sago and Darby disasters in West Virginia and Kentucky, which claimed a total of 17 lives and prompted regulators to take a closer look at the safety of the vast sealed areas of underground coal mines for the first time in years.
In Whitesville, W.W. crowds have gathered waiting for word on the explosion and disaster. Families of the miners are at The Baptist Church in Whitesville and at a training building on the mine property, officials said.
"If you're from here, you're part of a coal mining family," said Grace Lafferty of nearby Harper. "You know a lot of people who work here. It takes your breath away, your heart drops and you have that empty feeling."
Representative Nick Rahall, a Democrat who has represented the area in Congress for more than 30 years, said he had no definite word on deaths or survivors.
"Nothing definite is known at this point," Rahall said in his statement. "But our hearts go out to all of those who are waiting to hear about their loved ones.
"We've been through this many times before, and we know West Virginians will band together to get through it, but it doesn't get any easier," Rahall said.
One miner was transported to Charleston Area Medical Center by helicopter at 6 p.m., said CAMC spokeswoman Elizabeth Pellegrin. Hospital staff was treating him in the Intensive Care Unit, she said.
"We're hoping that we're able to treat all of them -- that they make it out and we're able to treat them," she said.
U.S. Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration, will not confirm any information about deaths until families of the workers were briefed.
"Rescue efforts are underway," Mine Safety and Health Administration said in a short prepared statement distributed at the rescue staging area.
The Upper Big Branch Mine-South employs about 200 workers and last year produced about 1.2 million tons of coal, according to company disclosures filed with MSHA.
In seven of the last 10 years, the mine has recorded a non-fatal injury rate worse than the national average for similar operations, according to MSHA statistics.
One miner was killed at the operation in a July 2003 electrical accident and another in a March 2001 roof fall, according to MSHA records.
"Federal records indicate that the Upper Big Branch mine has recorded an injury rate worse than the national average for similar operations for at least six of the past 10 years. The records also show hat the mine had 458 violations in 2009, with a total of $897,325 in safety fines penalties assessed against it last year. It has paid $168,393 in safety penalties." Source: nytimes.com
Monday's disaster comes four years after a series of 2006 disasters in West Virginia and Kentucky killed 19 miners, prompting Congress to pass the first major reforms of mine safety laws since 1977.
West Virginia is no stranger to mining disasters. Everyone in this state has some family members, friends or distant relatives who work in the coal mining industry and disasters and injuries have effected every miners family at some point in their lives.
Safety Equipment, Food, and Wireless Communication Available in Mine
There are supplies stored in the mine to help keep the miners alive till rescue workers reach them in case of explosions or other mining disasters. If they can reach these that will assist them in surviving until rescuers reach them. West Virginia requires all underground mines to have wireless communications and tracking systems designed to survive explosions and other disasters.
The term "mine disaster" historically has been applied to mine accidents claiming five or more lives and West Virginia miners have been victims to many of them including:
Recent Coal Mine Accidents and Disasters in West Virginia Mining
-Jan. 13, 2007. Brooks Run Mining Company Cucumber Mine in McDowell County kills two miners.
--Jan. 19, 2006. Aracoma Coal’s Alma #1 mine in Logan County. A fire on a belt line kills two miners.
--Jan. 2, 2006. Sago mine disaster at Tallmansville near Buckhannon. Twelve miners die.
--Jan 22, 3003. Central Cambria Drilling Co. McElroy Mine at Graysville. Three miners die an explosion.
--March 19, 1992. Consolidation Coal’s Blacksville #1 mine in Monongalia County. Four die in shaft explosion
Other Mine Tragedies in West Virginia
--Nov. 20, 1968. Consolidation Coal’s Farmington mine. Explosion kills 78 miners.
--April 25, 1963. Clinchfield Coal Company #2 mine. Gas explosion kills 22.
--Feb. 4, 1957. Pocahontas Fuel Co. #35 mine. Gas explosion kills 37.
--Jan. 22, 1942. Christopher Coal’s #3 mine at Osage. Explosion kills 56.
--Dec. 6, 1907. Fairmont Coal Company’s Monongah #6 and #8 mine. Explosion kills 361
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West Virginia Coal Mine- Methane Blast Worst in over a quarter century.
An explosion at a coal mine with a history of safety problems killed 25 workers and at least four others were missing early Tuesday more than a thousand feet underground in the worst U.S. mine disaster since 1984.
The chances of the four still being alive was not good, but the suspended rescue mission would continue after bore holes could be drilled to allow for toxic gas to be ventilated from Massey Energy Co.'s sprawling Upper Big Branch mine about 30 miles south of Charleston, state and federal safety officials said.
"It does not appear that any of the individuals made it to a rescue chamber," Kevin Stricklin, an administrator for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, said at a news conference. "The situation is dire."
Earlier, Stricklin said officials hoped some of the missing survived the initial blast on Monday afternoon and were able to reach the airtight chambers stocked with food, water and enough oxygen for them to live for four days. However, rescue teams made it to one of two nearby and it was empty. The buildup of toxic methane gas levels — a constant problem at the mine — and of carbon monoxide prevented them from reaching other chambers, officials said.
A total of 29 miners were in the area when the blast happened, Stricklin said. Some may have died in the blast and others when they breathed in the gas-filled air, Stricklin said.
West Virginia Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training Homepage
Fatalities in West Virginia Coal Mines 1883-1925
MSHA: An Exhibit on Mining Disasters - 1907 Fairmont Coal, Monongah, W.V.
A Bitter Saga: The Sago Mine Disaster : NPR