compiled by Dee Finney

updated 8-17-07



4-16-05 - DREAM -  I was living in a smaller city or town with a factory in it.

I was divorced and lived with all my normal real children, but also had two adopted children, both boys with the same name but much different ages.  One boy was an infant and the other was about age 21 and in college.  (He was a tall, intelligent, good looking, blonde curly haired young man, who reminds me of the singer - 'Michael Ball')(The name Michael mean 'gift from God)

I was living with my Father and his new wife. He resembled my former neighbor Arnold A. . She reminds me of a One Life to Live TV show character - dark-haired, wavy shoulder length.  (She was pushed off a cliff in a past year and the body never found)

It was nearing the end of May and the end of the school year.

I had been sick a day or so, thus my step-mother had been caring for all of us, but during that time, something in her had changed and she became a threat to me and my family.

It was a bright and sunny day out but we knew that the school year was ending the the June rains were coming. 

My step-mother and I were discussing moving because of the rains and floods that were sure to come.

My step-mother decided we should move to a college town so it would be convenient for 'Michael' to go to school.

I knew 'Michael' the college student could take care of himself. I was more concerned about 'Michael' my adopted infant, who I hadn't seen in two days, because of my illness.

I was suddenly struck with the thought that my step-mother was in love with my adopted older son 'Michael'.

I decided that for my family's sake, I would have to pack up all my kids stuff while she was out of the house during the last week of school and go somewhere she wouldn't think of.  My children's safety was my utmost concern.

My Father was sleeping in bed and I heard a knock at the door. I opened it and one of the men who worked for my Father who either owned or supervised the factory told us that there was a problem.  Water was coming in the roof of the factory and running down off the pipes that lined the ceiling of the building and was running all the way down into the mines at the bottom and a disastrous flood was imminent because the mines were full of people.

I jumped up to go with my Father to see what was happening. The man who had come to warn my Father and I rode up the elevator together to the 12th floor where the pipes were strung along the factory ceiling.

During the elevator ride, the man who had warned us ended up hanging from a nail on the elevator door and I couldn't lift him up to get him off the nail.  My Father had to quickly attend to the disaster.  I told the man that if he rode the elevator back down to the first floor, someone could lift him off the nail.  He sadly understood his plight.  (This reminds me of Jesus on the cross)

I left the elevator and watched as my Father climbed up to the ceiling of the factory where I could see more and more water running in and falling off the pipes and dropping all the way to the mine floor below.  There was nothing in between to stop it.

I decided I would go down to the mine floor to warn the miners of the imminent flood. My Father was doing what he could to stop the rain from coming into the factory.

There was no stairway but the way the pipes were arranged, I was able to slide down from pipe to pipe all the way down to the mine floor. It was only about a six-foot drop from the bottom pipe and I managed that easily enough.

I walked over a few feet to the mine entrance where the train tracks went in and the men came out. Just then, two mine trains came out of the tunnel, with all the people bent over so they didn't hit their heads on the  top of the tunnel.

All the men in the first train raised up when they got near me and I could see their dirty faces, grimy with moist dirt from sweating in the heat of the mine.

I was stunned to see who was riding on the second train.  When the people raised up their heads, I could see they were all female office workers, mostly older women. Some of them recognized me on sight. I hadn't know that the mine tunnels also had offices underground.

The women were clean and pristine looking, as they didn't go into the mine tunnels themselves, but they worked in underground offices and were equally in danger from the coming flood.

I woke up before I could tell them of the danger.



Nine trapped in Pennsylvania coal mine

By David Walsh
26 July 2002

Nine coal miners remained trapped underground in southwest Pennsylvania after they accidentally drilled into an abandoned mine shaft July 24 that was flooded with water. Rescue workers lowered a six-inch drill into the Quecreek Mine near Somerset (55 miles southeast of Pittsburgh) early Thursday morning, and the miners could be heard tapping on the pipe. “We answered them and they answered back,” said Joseph Sbaffoni, Pennsylvania’s deep mine safety chief.

The accident occurred around 9 pm on Wednesday when the miners ruptured the old mine shaft, last worked in the 1950s and unmarked on maps, which was filled with water. The first crew was able to warn another team of miners working behind them, who waded to safety in water up to their necks.

The trapped workers are apparently huddled in an area three feet high by 12 feet wide, about 300 feet below ground and 8,000 feet from the mine’s entrance. Rescuers were pumping air through the 6-inch hole in an effort to sustain the air pocket. They are planning to bring in a larger drilling rig to bore a 36-inch wide hole, but that process, once drilling begins, could take 18 hours.

A spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection observed, “It is a race against time because the water is still filling [the mine].” She spoke of “a glimmer of hope.”

About 80 family members of the miners gathered inside a fire hall in Sipesville, some two miles from the mine. The Quecreek Mine is located about 10 miles northwest of the site where hijacked Flight 93 crashed during last year’s September 11 terrorist attack.

The facility, operated by Black Wolf Coal Company and employing about 40 workers, has only been in operation a year and has already witnessed two accidents. In the first, last October 17, a 40-by-30 section of roof caved in. No one was injured in that incident.

A miner from Black Wolf Coal told the Associated Press, “Those are my brothers down there. God help them. Nobody knows what’s going on.”

On September 23, 2001, 13 miners were killed as the result of two gas explosions at the Jim Walter Resources Blue Creek No. 5 Mine in Brookwood, Alabama. Most of the victims were miners who refused to evacuate and rushed to help other workers after the first explosion. The Brookwood accident was the worst since 27 miners died in Orangeville, Utah in 1984.

Despite an average annual loss of 5.6 percent in the number of US coal miners during the 1990s (from 120,602 in 1991 to 71,522 in 2000), the total number of fatalities has increased over the past several years: 29 deaths in 1998, 35 in 1999, 38 in 2000 and 42 last year. As of July 11, 17 miners had died in 2002.

The Bush administration’s policy of gutting health and safety regulations, already extremely limited, can only contribute to the death toll.

The individual who took over head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) in May 2001, David Lauriski, is a trusted defender of mining industry interests. He had served as general manager for the Energy West Mining Co. in Huntington, Utah, and was director of health, safety and environmental affairs at Interwest Mining in Salt Lake City. He also worked as industrial relations manager, safety director and safety engineer at Kaiser Steel Corp.’s Sunnyside mine.

According to an official Labor Department biography, “The US mining industry selected Lauriski to represent its interests in Geneva, Switzerland, at the International Labor Organization during development of worldwide mine health and safety standards.” Prior to his nomination by Bush to his present post, Lauriski was the president of Lauriski and Associates, a consulting firm, and served as chairman of the Utah Board of Oil, Gas, and Mining and as a board member of the Utah Mining Association (UMA). When he was nominated, the UMA called him “an excellent choice for the Bush administration.”

Lauriski has lived up to the industry’s expectations. During Senate hearings last year on the tragedy in Libby, Montana, where asbestos from a vermiculite mine has been linked to some 200 deaths, Lauriski declared that he did not believe any new workplace regulation was necessary to protect workers, particularly miners, from the risk of getting ill from asbestos.

In February 2002, Lauriski met with industry representatives and spoke about efforts to “change the culture” within MSHA, i.e., make it more sympathetic to business concerns. Those responsible for enforcing agency standards would no longer be termed “inspectors,” for example, but now would be known as “safety and health compliance specialists.” The expression favored by Bush administration officials, “compliance assistance,” involves “a collaborative approach” between industry representatives and regulatory agency staff, rather than any serious effort at enforcement.

In remarks to a Senate committee earlier this month, Lauriski acknowledged, “This year, the number of fatalities and the non-fatal injury rates [in the mining industry] began to rise compared to the same time last year. January was especially disappointing and we knew that we had to keep that month’s increase in fatalities from becoming a trend.” He went on to assert that “the vast majority of mine operators want to comply [with government directives] but are often hampered by the volume and complexity of the regulations.”


Nine US miners rescued after three-day ordeal

By Eula Holmes and Paul Sherman
29 July 2002

All nine coal miners trapped underground for three days in a southwest Pennsylvania shaft were brought to the surface by rescuers early Sunday morning. The men, who were working 240 feet down when their mine flooded Wednesday evening, emerged in various states of hypothermia, dehydration and near-starvation, but all were alive and expected to recover from their ordeal.

The near-fatal disaster occurred at the Quecreek Mine near Somerset, 55 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. The nine rescued miners are: Thomas Foy, 51, of Berlin; Randall Fogle, 43, of Garrett; Ronald Hileman of Gray; Blaine Mayhew, in his late 20s, of Meyersdale; David Mullen of Gray; John Phillippi of Gray; Mark Popernack of Somerset; Robert Pugh, 50, of Ferrelton; and John Unger, 52, of Gray.

Shortly after 10pm Saturday, rescue workers who had been drilling a shaft to the trapped miners since Thursday broke into the air pocket that had protected the men, lowered a telephone and spoke directly with them. This was the first confirmation that the men were still alive since Thursday noontime, when seismographers picked up the sound of tapping from the four-foot cavity in which the men were huddled.

Work then got underway to lower a 10-foot-long capsule down the 29-inch-wide shaft and bring the miners up, one by one. The first miner reached the surface just before 1am Sunday, and the others followed roughly at 15-minute intervals. The last miner was pulled up at 2:45am.

All of the men were in relatively good health, considering what they had endured. Of the six who were transferred to Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in nearby Johnstown, three were released later on Sunday, and three, as of this writing, remained under doctor’s care. Of these, all three had mild hypothermia. One had a history of cardiac problems and complained of chest pains, and was consequently under intensive care. Another miner is being treated with medication for a rapid and irregular heartbeat. The third is being treated for “bends”, i.e., a painful condition caused by bubbles forming in the bloodstream as a result of a rapid reduction in air pressure.

The mine flooded shortly after 9pm Wednesday as two crews of nine men each were working underground. One crew digging in a new direction broke the wall into Saxman Mine, which was abandoned in 1950 and had filled with water. The miners were able to make their way to higher ground and were protected from the rising water by an air pocket that had formed. They warned by radio nine workers in the other crew, who were able to escape after making their way through neck-high water.

The accident occurred more than a mile from the mine entrance. Rescue workers feared that the miners, if even partially submerged in the 50-degree water, would soon die from hypothermia. To avert this, they raised the temperature of the fresh air being pumped down to the miners to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

They also increased the air pressure to 90 pounds in an attempt to enlarge the air pocket and give the miners some dry space. Water pumps were installed to drive the 50 million gallons of water out of the mine at a rate of 12,000 gallons per minute.

By Saturday afternoon, the drilling had reached within 30 feet of the trapped men. Rescue workers had to be very careful at this point since air pressure was holding back the water. There was concern that a break into the four-foot cavity could release the pressure and allow the water to rush back in and drown the men.

Instead of risking breaking the air bubble, the rescue team decided to slow the drilling to allow more time for the pumps to reduce the water level a few more feet. This, they hoped, would give the miners sufficient protection, even without the added air pressure.

The nine men spent 77 hours standing in three to four feet of water, hugging and rubbing one another to keep warm, and encircling the coldest among them. They wrote their last words to family members and placed the slips of paper for them in a pail. Then they tethered themselves together, so if they drowned, all of them would be found.

A high level of technological equipment, engineering know-how, resources and manpower were used to save the miners, but the same cannot be said of the operation of the mine itself.

While mining remains the most dangerous occupation in the United States, and coal operators have always been more concerned with their profits than the safety of their workers, enormous advances in technology and, above all, the struggle of mine workers over generations have combined to sharply reduce the number of accidents and deaths in the industry, as compared to the carnage that prevailed in the first half of the 20th century.

Over the past two decades, however, the government has spearheaded a ruthless offensive by the coal and energy companies to dismantle the past gains of the mine workers, especially as they impact workers’ health and safety, and the leadership of the United Mineworkers of America (UMWA) has collaborated in this assault.

The decade of the 1980s was dominated by union-busting attacks on the miners, in which the coal bosses, backed by the government at all levels, revived the use of armed goons, court injunctions and deadly violence to either break local unions outright, or impose conditions in UMWA facilities that were previously seen only in non-union mines. At the same time, the federal government made its mine health and safety watchdog agency even more toothless.

The result has been a drastic reduction in the percentage of coal dug by union miners, and a dramatic erosion in the conditions for miners who continue to have nominal union representation. The site of last week’s disaster is one of many regions that have been transformed over the past two decades from union stronghold to largely non-union production. Quecreek is a non-union mine.

The UMWA has virtually abandoned the area. It closed its District 2 headquarters in nearby Ebensburg and combined it with its District 5 office in Rostraver, a town closer to Pittsburgh.

Mine officials and government safety experts have been quick to blame faulty maps for the Quecreek disaster. Indeed, the maps with which the miners were working showed the Saxman mine as being 300 feet from the spot where they hit it.

But it has long been known that the 50-year-old maps are far less accurate than today’s mapping, which can pinpoint mine digs to within centimeters. Moreover, it was common practice for mine owners to dig coal wherever they found it, even if they had not bought the rights for the coal. Mine companies did not map such illicit excavations.

To compensate, two techniques have been widely used throughout the mining industry, especially when miners are operating near abandoned shafts. Neither appears to have been used by the owners at Quecreek.

The first is to conduct a two-dimensional seismic profiling of the mine. Seismic readings provide data on the location of faults, fractures and voids, which often fill with water. Ed Blott, a consultant with the Littleton, Colo., company ExplorTech, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the cost for such a profile for a mine the size of Quecreek would be only about $80,000.

Another, even less expensive method, is to have miners drill a test hole in front of where they plan to dig. These probe holes are usually less then 2 inches in diameter, but up to 30 feet long. They can expose dangerous pockets of underground water, and then be quickly and safely plugged.

The operation at Quecreek reflects the depression that has hit the US coal industry since the late 1970s and devastated entire sections of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Somerset County has seen scores of mines close down and thousands of miners lose their jobs.

As a result, a number of small non-union mines such as Quecreek have opened which employ miners at only a fraction of what unionized miners received and with far lower benefits. They specialize in reaching coal seams, using mainly human power, that were unprofitable for the larger mines to dig.

The Quecreek mine is less than two years old and employs some 60 miners who work the mine in three shifts around the clock. Quecreek produced 15,000 tons a month last year with about 40 employees, and currently produces 50,000 tons a month. Larger mines average 500,000 tons.

Since opening, Quecreek has been cited 26 times for safety violations, but has been only fined $859. Of the 26 citations, 16 were levied in 2001 and were considered “significant and substantial.”

This year, the company has received no fines for its 10 citations, even though five violations were considered “significant and substantial” and six took place below ground, including misuse of combustible materials and insufficient guards for mechanical equipment.


The Pennsylvania mine rescue and the human cost of coal

By Paul Sherman and Bill Vann
3 August 2002

The rescue last week of nine coal miners trapped underground for 77 hours in a flooded mine shaft brought cheers of joy from people not only in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, but throughout the US. Millions had anxiously followed the successful race to reach the miners.

This tireless effort to save human life struck a deep chord nationwide. The display of solidarity and cooperation among the rescuers, the trapped Quecreek miners and the Somerset community—in a common social effort driven by human concerns rather than the drive for private profit—contrasted sharply with the prevailing news of the day, dominated by revelations of criminality and greed within the US corporate elite.

Predictably, the media shaped the saga of the rescued miners according to time-worn journalistic methods, massaging it into a “good news” story, while working to turn the miners themselves into momentary celebrities. For all the attention paid by the major broadcast and print outlets, however, virtually no one in the national media has bothered to seriously examine the background of this accident and the dangers that miners like these face every day they go underground.

To probe the conditions underlying this near fatal accident would present a very different picture from that of the rescue effort. As opposed to the mobilization of advanced technology and engineering expertise seen in the effort to bring the nine miners out alive, considerable sections of the mining industry, including the Quecreek mine, seek to realize a profit by relying on primitive methods and unsafe practices. The result has been an increase in the number of coal mining deaths in the US for three consecutive years, with the death toll reaching 42 in 2001.

The erosion of safety conditions and rise in mine fatalities are the result of a relentless offensive against coal miners and the working class as a whole over the course of more than two decades.

Located some 60 miles east of Pittsburgh, with a population of 80,000, Somerset County has undergone a social transformation as a result of these attacks. Often described as a rural and farming community, Somerset is, in fact, heavily working class, and its history is bound up with the development of coal mining, which has dominated the region for more than 100 years.

In 1979, one in every four workers in the county was a coal miner. There were 84 mines employing 6,237 miners. Many others worked in related industries that supplied or provided transportation for the mines.

By 1984, the number of mines had fallen to 55 and the number of coal miners to 1,945. By 1992 there were only 41 working mines employing 1,001 miners, and by 1998 the total had declined to just 803 miners working in 31 mines. A virtually identical decline took place in the surrounding counties of Indiana, Cambria, and Westmoreland, while in Pennsylvania as a whole, the number of miners declined from over 60,000 in 1979 to less then 17,000 today.

The destruction of mining jobs was largely the result of conscious decisions taken by the coal operators and the government in the wake of the 1977-78 national miners’ strike, which saw unionized miners humiliate the government of then-President Jimmy Carter by defying a Taft-Hartley injunction. In response, there was a concerted drive to shift coal production to non-union facilities, first in the Western strip-mining areas and then in formerly unionized mining districts.

The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) responded to this assault on jobs by seeking to prove to the coal operators that the union could be a trusted partner in making the mining industry competitive in the global market. In a series of contract concessions, the union leadership agreed to cuts in wages, job losses and changes in work rules that jeopardized miners’ safety.

In West Virginia and Kentucky, the drive to expand non-union mining provoked a series of strikes during the 1980s and early 1990s in which the coal bosses, backed by the government, returned to the use of scabs and violent attacks, including murder, against the miners. The UMWA leadership isolated these struggles, and most of them were defeated.

In Pennsylvania, the UMWA leadership did nothing to oppose the destruction of jobs and signaled its willingness to collaborate with the coal operators when it allowed Consolidated Coal, one of the nation’s top ten mining companies, to open the non-union Bailey mine in Green county in 1981. A second non-union mine, Enlow Fork, opened in the same county in 1990.

The union gave its blessing to these operations by working out a deal with Consol calling for laid-off union miners to be given a certain percentage of job openings at the non-union facilities. In addition, the UMWA was allowed to receive dues deductions from these miners’ paychecks, even though they were no longer covered by a union contract.

For those miners still working, real wages declined. According to figures collected by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor, Somerset miners’ earnings fell 15 percent between 1984 and 1992, while in neighboring Cambria County they plummeted by a staggering 37 percent. By 1998, earnings had dropped another 8 percent in Somerset. Since earnings take into account overtime and bonuses, hourly wages probably fell even further. The fall in earnings reflected both the concessionary contracts of the UMWA and the far greater proportion of workers employed in non-union mines.

The destruction of jobs and the lowering of earnings affected the whole community. In the 1980s unemployment soared, reaching a high of 21.7 percent in Somerset County in 1983, with similar figures in Cambria and Indiana. From 1980 to 1989, average household income declined by 12.1 percent in Somerset, 14.1 percent in Indiana, 13.7 percent in Westmoreland, and 18.8 percent in Cambria. The number of people living in poverty increased and the proportion of young children living in poverty reached 20 percent.

During the stock-market-fueled boom of the 1990s, job growth in the region was largely due to hiring by low-wage employers. No longer do steel mills and mining companies top the list of the largest employers in the area. Today the biggest employers are retailers like Wal-Mart and Revco, and Seven Springs, a ski and golf resort. Many of these jobs are low-wage, part-time, and seasonal.

In those mines that continue to operate, the deterioration of working conditions has proven even more dramatic than the fall in wages or decline in jobs. With the closing of the larger, unionized mines, a number of small non-union mines have sprung up, targeting pockets of coal that the larger mines found unprofitable. These mines, once dismissed contemptuously as “dog holes” by union miners, are among the most dangerous.

Quecreek, the site of last week’s accident, is one such mine. With a low capital budget, it can raise or lower production as quickly as the market requires. Quecreek began mining operations in 2001 with fewer than 20 workers. By the middle of the year, it had grown to about 35 miners, who dug approximately 15,000 tons of coal a month. This year the workforce increased to 69 miners and was producing 50,000 tons a month until last week’s accident.

To keep capital investment down, the company uses the older, but still common practice of “room and pillar” mining, in which large chambers of coal are removed, but pillars of coal are left standing to hold up the roof.

While the wages of miners have fallen, the pay is still higher than that offered by other employers in the community. At the same time, miners are constantly under the threat of layoff if a seam runs out or the price of coal falls.

This puts enormous pressure on miners to go along with whatever the operators demand, so as not to lose their jobs. For younger workers, scarce mining jobs may be the only chance to scratch out a tolerable living for themselves and their families. For the older workers, who have only known mining, the loss of the job would be a catastrophe. Fear of being fired for not being a “team player” intimidates many from raising safety concerns.

It has now been confirmed that Quecreek did not conduct either of the two standard procedures that would have detected the underground water that flooded the shafts and trapped the nine miners. Either a two-dimensional seismographic study of the area or the practice of drilling probing holds would have safely alerted the miners that they were working only four feet from the flooded abandoned mine. Nor did the Pennsylvania department for mine safety require either procedure in approving the company’s request to operate so close to abandoned mines.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration is working closely with the mine operators to gut what little protection current safety regulations provide. It has proposed an additional six percent cut in the budget of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, most of it to come from the agency’s coal enforcement division. It has also issued a policy change that reduces the number of times coal operators must test for dust levels inside a mine. The effect will be to allow operators to flout rules on dust contamination, resulting in more accidents and more miners stricken with black lung disease.

To ensure the subordination of safety concerns to corporate interests, the Bush administration is continuing to pack mine safety agencies with industry hacks. Most recently it nominated Stan Suboleski, an executive from Massey Energy, which has one of the worst records for mine injuries and deaths, to serve on the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Committee. Last year, David Lauriski, former general manager of the Utah-based Energy West Mining Co., was tapped to head the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, where he has promoted policies favoring the mine operators.

Most of the rescued Quecreek miners have said they will not go back underground. They are well aware that the flooding of their mine was not a freak accident, but indicative of how dangerous mining has become as a result of the drive by the employers and the government to boost profits.

See   Alabama Mine Explosion - Sept. 27, 2001



Death toll of central China coal mine flood rises to nine
www.chinaview.cn 2005-04-06 00:22:21
   CHANGSHA, April 5 (Xinhuanet) -- The death toll of Friday's coal mine flooding in Hunan Province has risen to nine and eight other miners still remain missing, rescuers said Tuesday.

    Water from the Guida Coal Mine, which was flooded by heavy rainFriday, gushed into the neighboring Shihuiyao Coal Mine in Heye Township, Guiyang County of Chenzhou City, stranding 17 miners underground, according to the local coal mine safety supervision authorities.

    More than 30 rescuers are working underground by turns to search for the missing miners, but the chances of survival are slim, said Hao Quwu, deputy director for the rescue work.

    Hao said there are two areas that rescuers have not reached, but the two areas are both filled with silt.

    Both Guida and Shihuiyao are unqualified coal producers, the coal mine safety authorities said.

    Managers of the two mines are under police control.

Coal mine flood traps 17 in China

Beijing, April 2. (PTI): At least 17 miners have been trapped in a flooded coal mine in Guiyang County in central China's Hunan Province, the state media reported today.

Rescuers are trying to save the miners who were trapped after water gushed into the coal mine following heavy rains on Wednesday night, an official in charge of the provincial coal mine safety supervision said.

Rescue teams headed by the director of the provincial coal mine safety supervision administration have rushed to the accident site, Xinhua news agency reported. The mine is situated in Heye Township.

But the teams are yet to ascertain the condition of the trapped miners due to complex situation underground, the report added.

Cause of fluorite mine flooding in N. China identified
11/4/2005 17:14

The investigation team found Monday that lax safety standards caused an Inner Mongolia fluorite mine to flood leading to the death eight miners 11 days ago.

Wang Yingfu, head of the investigative team, said that the Xu Guizhuo, owner of the fluorite mine, was detained by local police.

The ore body of the 70-year-old Jinfeng Fluorite Mine was nearly hollow and there was large amount of water settled beneath the working platform where the accident took place. The ceiling of an upper working platform collapsed causing the water to flood into the accident working platform.

The flooding occurred at the Jinfeng Fluorite Mine in Chifeng at 10:00 a.m. on March 31, when water filled the 750-meter-long passage. Nine miners were working 120 meters underground and only one of them escaped.
Wang said, Xu, the owner of the fluorite mine, was fully aware of the hollow of the ore body, but did not take any measures for the safety purpose.
Fix pump gear or 'tsunami' could flood mineshaft: warning
April 11, 2005

  By Alameen Templeton

Poor maintenance of a mine- pumping apparatus deep below the earth at the Hartebeesfontein gold mine could unleash an "underground tsunami", a mining expert has warned.

Several of South Africa's richest gold mines belonging to Anglogold, Harmony and Africa Rainbow Minerals could be wiped out if urgent repairs are not made, the expert said.

Flooding - from a massive subterranean lake - could also result in loss of life and the pollution of ground water that farmers and many poor communities depended on.

James Duncan, the spokesperson for mine owner DRDGold, was adamant last night that maintenance done on the pumping equipment was "sufficient to ensure the requisite levels of safety and efficiency".

But a senior manager at Hartebeesfontein, who does not wish to be identified, said the metal in pipes carrying water from a pump station 1km below the earth's surface had become so corroded and thin that "you can pick your teeth with it".

The station has to pump up to 28-million litres of water every day to prevent the water table from rising too high.

Hartebeesfontein narrowly averted disaster last year when all five pipes burst after four days of heavy rain, he said.

Having lived through those harrowing days, he said he knew first-hand the terror of being trapped underground as a wall of water came rushing towards you: "Only the concerted efforts of the mine prevented the pump station from flooding all neighbouring mines."

But Hartebeesfontein has been put into liquidation by DRDGold, raising fears in the mining community that neighbouring mines will be left to carry all the pumping costs.

Duncan said last night that DRDGold believed its responsibilities had ended when its mine went into liquidation.

Any firm - such as DRDGold's subsidiary and holding firm, Buffelsfontein, which owns Hartebeesfontein - had a finite life and that was reality could not be ignored, he said.

Instead, the firm was expected to continue pumping water after it had gone out of business, simply because it was the "last man standing" at a high point on the water table.

The situation was iniquitous and illogical and clearly required all the mines to band together to deal with a common problem, Duncan said.

Anglogold issued a statement last week, saying that DRDGold could not escape its obligations by going into liquidation.

"The National Water Act also empowers the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (Dwaf) to take reasonable action and to recover costs from a mine that causes flooding," it said.

Anglogold estimates it would have to pay R85-million a year to take over the pumping responsibilities. An effort to find a solution led to an impasse on Friday when the liquidator failed to arrive at a meeting of concerned parties.

Johan van der Merwe, Dwaf's deputy director for the Free State, said he could not comment since negotiations were at "a very sensitive stage".

The state is believed to favour requiring all the parties involved - believed to be DRDGold, Anglogold, Harmony and Africa Rainbow Minerals - to share the costs.

Officials have said the state is considering a criminal prosecution if a deal is not reached within the private sector.

The National Water Act makes it a criminal offence to pollute a water resource, either intentionally or through negligence.


Rainy Season Produces Sinkholes in Pittsburgh Area

Months of record-setting rains that caused an abandoned coal mine to burst forth with more than 200 million gallons of water are now causing a rash of mine-related sinkholes in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Four sinkholes have been reported in Pittsburgh and its suburbs, according to Betsy Mallison, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. One of them is four feet wide and about 12 feet deep, giving a clear view of an abandoned mine shaft and a ladder leading to it.

The holes are dangerous because people, especially children, sometimes explore them and could be trapped, overcome by poisonous gases or suffer from a lack of oxygen. Two children and a police officer who tried to help them were killed in such a hole in the late 1970s, said a federal mining official.

"It's the weather. We see batches of these (sinkholes) after we get a real series of wet weather. It's just the water moving through the ground,'' Mallison said.

And it's rarely been wetter in the region.

The National Weather Service says 68.88 inches of rain — 22.79 inches more than normal — fell at Pittsburgh International Airport from January 2004 through the end of last month. Last year was so rainy that the annual record of 50.61 inches set in 1890 was eclipsed by the end of October.

Most of the region's towns are built on or near hills that once contained coal mines. When the ground is saturated with water, the old mines can cause three key problems, said Bill Ehler, an official with the federal Office of Surface Mining.

The land above shallow mines can open up with sinkholes. The land above deeper mines can sink, a phenomena known as subsidence that sometimes damages buildings. Finally, mines filled with decades of groundwater can burst forth suddenly if the ground is weakened.

"These problems are all related to a mine somehow,'' Mallison said. "It's a legacy of those years when people mined in their own back yards — and it's made its way back up to the surface.''

On Jan. 25, the former entrance of an abandoned mine ruptured, sending more than 10,000 gallons of water a minute rushing down streets and across yards in McDonald, a small town about 10 miles west of Pittsburgh. Officials controlled the initial deluge by hiring a contractor to pump the acidic water into two large temporary pipes that emptied into a creek for about three weeks.

The water is still being pumped out at about 1,200 gallons a minute, Mallison said. The Department of Environmental Protection has hired an environmental contractor to study the problem and develop a permanent solution.

The Office of Surface Mining uses Abandoned Mine Reclamation Funds, which come from tonnage fees paid by mining companies, to fix sinkholes and to help pay for other damage, like the deluge in McDonald. It's unclear how much longer it will be able to pay for such emergencies, however, because Congress hasn't voted to continue the fund.

The program, which that has collected more than $7 billion in tonnage fees since it was created in 1978, was set to end June 30, but has been extended through Sept. 30 while Congress debates whether to end or change it, Ehler said.

Meanwhile, state and federal officials are bracing for more sinkholes, and hoping to avoid costly disasters. The McDonald mine flood caused about $375,000 damage to the city's streets, sidewalks, curbs and storm drains, according to Mayor James Frazier.

"If it's a shallow shaft and weathering hits it, maybe the extra rain we've had in the past year runs through that valley and weakens the rock,'' Ehler said. "Basically, the ground wants to reach its lowest level and, if it's unstable, that's just what it does.''

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. 

China coal mine blast kills 68
Mon Nov 28, 2005

By Benjamin Kang Lim and Judy Hua

BEIJING (Reuters) - An explosion ripped through a state-owned colliery in northeast China, killing 68 miners and trapping 79 underground, just days after Chinese leaders called for vigilance to prevent major accidents.

The blast late on Sunday was the latest disaster to strike Heilongjiang, whose capital city, Harbin, was held hostage for five days by a toxic spill coursing through the Songhua river that provides its water supply, forcing a shut-down of tap water.

Li Yizhong, head of the country's top work safety watchdog, urged about 270 rescue workers to spare no effort to save 79 miners trapped at Dongfeng coal mine.

Sixty-eight of 221 miners working underground at the time have been killed, while 74 have been rescued, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Investigators blamed the blast on coal-dust explosion, which knocked out all ventilation systems in the pit. The main system resumed operation on Monday.

The accident came about two weeks after an explosion at a chemical plant in nearby Jilin province poured 100 tonnes of cancer-causing benzene compounds into the Songhua river.

An 80-km (50-mile) slick passed through the Songhua River and out of Harbin at the weekend.

Making no mention of the toxic spill, President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao called last week for vigilance to prevent major accidents which cause huge casualties and property losses.

Hu and Wen urged law enforcement agencies to implement stricter inspection measures and punish those responsible in accordance with the law, state media said without elaborating.

Taps were turned back on in Harbin, home to nine million people, on Sunday and Heilongjiang provincial Governor Zhang Zuoji drank tap water to prove it was safe.

Officials have warned residents to be on the lookout for symptoms of benzene poisoning, which can cause anaemia, other blood disorders and kidney and liver damage.


Governor Zhang defended a government decision to delay announcement of the toxic spill by 10 hours, saying it was a "white lie", the Legal Evening News reported.

"We rectified this 'white lie'...to protect the right of the people to know," he was quoted as saying.

The Harbin crisis has raised wider questions about the costs of China's breakneck economic boom. Around 70 percent of its rivers are contaminated and the cabinet recently described the country's environmental situation as grim.

Water was discharged from nearby reservoirs to dilute the toxic spill and 1,000 soldiers installed charcoal filters at water plants to ensure water would be drinkable.

Environmentalists have complained that China is not sharing enough information about the spill to protect Russia's residents and rivers downstream from the Songhua.

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing has expressed regret to Russia's ambassador over the incident.


China's mining industry is the biggest and the deadliest in the world. Accidents killed more than 2,700 miners in the first half of this year alone.

The country has launched safety campaigns to clean up and shut down illegal mines in the hope that consolidating China's thousands of tiny and primitive operations will improve safety.

But booming energy demand and high coal prices has driven some mine owners to ignore regulations and Sunday's blast, at a state-owned mine, shows that larger players are not immune from disasters.

Dongfeng coal mine is run by a branch of the Heilongjiang Longmei Mining (Group) Co. Ltd. -- a conglomerate of four state-owned major coal businesses in the province, with a registered capital of 13 billion yuan (940 million pounds).

China's worst coal mine accident this year killed 214 people at a state-run mine in the northeastern province of Liaoning.

Accidents and disasters cause more than 1 million casualties annually in China. They also bring economic losses of 650 billion yuan each year, equivalent to 6 percent of gross domestic product, according to Wang Jikun, a senior official with the Ministry of Public Security.

(Additional reporting by Brian Rhoads and Lindsay Beck)


China mine disaster: Death toll rises 134


15 were still missing. Investigators blamed the blast on coal-dust explosion, which knocked out all ventilation systems in the pit.

Anxious relatives of missing miners demanded to be allowed into a coal mine Monday after an explosion killed at least 134 people and left rescuers searching for 15 others, adding to a soaring death toll in China's mines despite a national safety crackdown.

The blast late Sunday in the Dongfeng Coal Mine in this town in China's northeast prompted national leaders to demand stricter enforcement of safety rules. It came as the nearby major city of Harbin was struggling to recover from a toxic spill in a river that forced the government to cut off water supplies for five days.

Outside the Qitaihe mine late Monday, a stream of emergency vehicles with flashing red lights and black government sedans made their way up and down the narrow, two-lane road to the mine entrance.

Security guards blocked the front gate as about a dozen people, apparently relatives of miners, stood outside in sub-freezing weather and a nighttime fog. Four women argued loudly with the guards, demanding to be allowed in.

``Why won't you let us in?'' one shouted. When the guards refused, the women shouted obscenities at the men.

People who answered the phone at the mine office said they were too busy to give any information.


The disaster is a setback for Chinese safety officials, who are struggling to improve safety in a coal mining industry that is by far the world's deadliest, with more than 5,000 fatalities a year in fires, floods and other accidents.

Most accidents are blamed on disregard of safety rules or lack of required equipment for ventilation or fire-control. Local officials often are accused of helping mine owners or managers flout safety rules.

Beijing has unveiled one wave of safety initiatives after another in recent years. It has announced the creation of a national network of safety inspectors, stricter fire standards and shorter working hours for miners to prevent fatigue.

Authorities say they have shut down more than 12,000 coal mines this year for safety inspections. Thousands have been ordered to improve their facilities and many others aren't expected to reopen.

The government said the explosion in Qitaihe was blamed on airborne coal dust that ignited. But there was no word on whether it was believed to involve misconduct or human error.

Rescuers had found 74 miners alive by Monday, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

It said a team of 269 rescuers was searching for the rest, but gave no indication whether they were believed to be alive.

Government television in Heilongjiang province, where Qitaihe is located, showed an injured miner, his face black with coal dust, being led from the mine and collapsing onto a stretcher. Rescuers in orange jumpsuits and respirators were shown descending into the pit.

Miner: We couldn't breathe

``We couldn't breathe,'' said one miner as he lay on a stretcher. Provincial Gov. Zhang Zuoji was shown visiting survivors in the hospital. Most wore oxygen masks and many lay in bed still wearing work clothes, their faces caked with black grime.

Zhang rushed to Qitaihe from Harbin, about 350 kilometers (250 miles) to the west, where he had just taken part in festivities marking the restoration of running water that was suspended after a spill of toxic benzene in the nearby Songhua River.

The string of disasters has embarrassed the government President Hu Jintao, which has promised to improve the lives of the poor majority who have been left behind by China's 25-year-old economic boom.

Following the latest blast, Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao urged officials to curb the ``possible occurrence of big safety accidents which claim huge casualties,'' the state newspaper China Daily said.


It said they demanded stricter inspections and punishments for violators. But efforts to shut down dangerous coal mines have been complicated by China's soaring demands for power to feed its booming economy. The loss of mining jobs is especially painful in a region like the northeast, where state companies are laying off millions of workers in a struggle to compete in the new market-oriented economy.

Coal mining is a key industry in Qitaihe, a town at China's far northeastern edge, near the Russian border. Towering piles of waste rock from dozens of pits dot the landscape.

Also Monday, 18 miners missing in another coal mine disaster in the northern province of Hebei were confirmed dead following an underground flood last week, Xinhua said.

The mine owners fled after the flood, complicating search efforts, the agency said.
FROM: http://www.eitb24.com/noticia_en.php?id=108312
Blast at W. Va. coal mine traps 13 more than a mile underground
U.S. coal mining disasters
2001: Explosions at a Jim Walter Resources Inc. mine in Brookwood, Ala., kill 13 people.
1992: A blast at a Southhountain Coal Co. mine in Norton, Va., kills eight.
1989: An explosion at a Pyro Mining Co.mine in Wheatcroft, Ky., kills 10.
1986: A coal pile collapses at Consolidation Coal Co.'s mine in Fairview, W.Va., killing five.
1984: A fire at Emery Mining Corp.'s mine in Orangeville, Utah, kills 27.

The deadliest coal mining disaster in U.S. history was an explosion in 1907 in Monongah, W.Va., that killed 362 people.

Source: Mine Safety and Health Administration

January 2, 2006, 1:04 PM EST
TALLMANSVILLE, W.Va. -- A coal mine explosion that may have been sparked by lightning trapped 13 miners more than a mile underground Monday, state officials said.

"There was some type of explosion either heard or felt by the miners attempting to go in the mine for a shift change," said Lara Ramsburg, spokeswoman for Gov. Joe Manchin. "They then backtracked out of the mine."
 Rescue workers have not been able to reach the miners already in the mine, said Steve Milligan, deputy director of Upshur County's Office of Emergency Management.

Four co-workers attempted to reach the missing miners, but they "came to a wall," Milligan said.

A trained mine rescue team was en route. The mine is about 100 miles northeast of Charleston in the north-central part of the state.

The cause of the explosion was not immediately known and details were sketchy, but Ramsburg said officials believe it may have been caused by a lightning strike. A series of severe thunderstorms moved through West Virginia early Monday.

Officials originally placed the time of the explosion at 8 a.m., but Ramsburg said it happened between 6 and 6:30 a.m.

The mine is owned by Anker West Virginia Mining Co. Anker was recently purchased by International Coal Group, Inc. A person who answered the phone at the mine declined to comment.

The explosion is the state's worst mining accident since February 2003, when three contract workers were killed by a methane explosion while drilling an air shaft at a Consol Energy Mine near Cameron. The state ended 2005 with three mining fatalities, the lowest since 2000.

In September 2001, 13 coal miners were killed in a series of explosions at a mine in Broached, Ala. Ten miners had rushed in to rescue co-workers injured by an explosion, only to be killed themselves by a second blast. That was the nation's worst mining accident since Dec. 19, 1984, when fire killed 27 coal miners near Orangeville, Utah.

In July 2002, nine miners were rescued after being trapped for 77 hours in a mine near Somerset, Pa.

In November, International Coal Group, headed by New York billionaire Wilbur Ross, said in a filing that it hoped to raise up to $291.7 million in a planned initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange.

Ross, who specializes in buying and selling troubled companies, and partners bought most of Horizon Natural Resources Co. -- once the nation's fourth largest coal company -- for $786 million in 2004, after a U.S. bankruptcy judge ruled that Horizon did not have to honor union contracts that guaranteed benefits for the miners. Ross added Anker Coal Group and CoalQuest Development LLC to form ICG.

Miners' Families Somber After Body Found

By ALLEN G. BREED, Associated Press Writer

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

(01-03) 20:40 PST Tallmansville, W.Va. (AP) --

As the hours dragged on and the rain continued to fall, family and friends of the 12 trapped miners grew somber as they prayed for the miners' safety.

While rescue workers inched their way deeper into the mine Tuesday, relatives learned that one body had been recovered and that tests revealed deadly levels of carbon monoxide. Efforts to communicate with the men were not successful.

An evening visit by Gov. Joe Manchin deflated the spirits of relatives gathered at the Sago Baptist Church near the mine. The governor said one body had been found, and the search would continue for the 12 other miners.

"He said the odds are against us. It's not hopeful," said John Groves, whose 57-year-old brother, Jerry Groves, was among the trapped miners.

John Groves, 43, of Cleveland, W.Va., fought back tears as he described Manchin's visit.

"I think everybody knows based on what they told us, what we are looking at," he said.

People stood in the cold rain as they waited for news, huddled around fires that were lit on both sides of the train tracks near the mine.

Marlene Nutter, whose friend Terry Helms was in the mine, said loved ones were clinging to faith.

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

Hope, and a miracle, were needed, Manchin said.

"In West Virginia, we believe in the power of prayer, we feel for the families and the families feel it," Manchin told MSNBC.

State troopers and yellow police tape kept reporters away Tuesday, more than 30 hours after the miners became trapped 260 feet below the surface of the Sago mine in Upshur County after an explosion.

Every couple of hours, officials would brief friends and family of the miners, hoping they didn't hear news first from the media.

At the church, several hundred people sang hymns as some played "Amazing Grace,""Old Rugged Cross," and "I'll Fly Away" on the piano, said Barbry Chaapel, the former sister-in-law of trapped miner Jack Weaver.

Ben Hatfield, chief executive officer of mine owner International Coal Group Inc. of Ashland, Ky., comforted them by saying the miners could still be alive in another location.

Families and friends had waited overnight in a muddy field and the church. Some camped out in tents; others sheltered themselves from cold rain with donated blankets.

"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.

Nick Helms, a golfer who lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C., said his father Terry, was among the trapped miners. The 50-year-old once told him that mine air tests could be deceiving because safer levels could be just a short distance away.

"My father and every person who goes into that mine knows what they're doing. I'm sure they found a way to stay safe," said the son, who hasn't seen his dad in six months.

"I just want to see him again," he said.

Associated Press writers Vicki Smith in Tallmansville contributed to this story.



12 Trapped Coal Miners Found Alive After Long Search Body of 13th Miner Was Found By Rescuers Earlier Tuesday By ALLEN G. BREED, AP

TALLMANSVILLE, W.Va. (Jan. 4, 2006) - Twelve of the 13 miners trapped in an explosion in a coal mine were found alive late Tuesday after more than 41 hours underground, turning a community's worst fears to unbridled joy. Family members streamed from the church where they had kept vigil, shouting "Praise the Lord!"

Bells at the church rang out as family members ran out screaming in jubilation. Relatives yelled "They're alive!"  

"They told us they have 12 alive," said Gov. Joe Manchin, leader of the nation's No. 2 coal-producing state. "We have some people that are going to need some medical attention."  

The miners' conditions were unknown, and several ambulances with flashing red lights were parked at the mine entrance. At least one ambulance departed the scene, and a local hospital was on high alert and called in all employees.  

Mine officials earlier found extremely dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in the part of the mine where the men where believed to have been. The odorless, colorless gas can be lethal at high doses. At lower levels, it can cause headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea, fatigue and brain damage.  

The miners "are being moved to the surface, and their condition is being assessed while they are being moved," said Manchin spokesman Tom Hunter.  

Rescue crews found the body of a 13th miner earlier Tuesday evening and said they were holding out hope that the others were still alive, even as precious time continued to slip away.  

The mine's owner, International Coal Group Inc., did not immediately confirm that the 12 other men were alive. A relative at the church said a mine foreman called relatives there, saying the miners had been found.  

A few minutes after word came, the throng, several hundred strong, broke into a chorus of the hymn "How Great Thou Art," in a chilly, night air.  

"Miracles happen in West Virginia and today we got one," said Charlotte Weaver, wife of Jack Weaver, one of the men who had been trapped in the mine.  

"I got scared a lot of times, but I couldn't give up," she said. "We have an 11-year-old son, and I couldn't go home and tell him, 'Daddy wasn't coming home."'  

There were hugs and tears among the crowd outside the Sago Baptist Church near the mine, about 100 miles northeast of Charleston.  

Helen Winans, whose son Marshall Winans, was one of those trapped, said she believes there was divine intervention.  

"The Lord takes care of them," she said.  

The miners had been trapped 260 feet below the surface of the mine since an explosion early Monday.  

The body was found about 700 feet from a mine car, and it appeared the employee was working on a beltline, which brings coal out of the mine, said Ben Hatfield, chief executive officer for ICG of Ashland, Ky.  

Michelle Mouser of Morgantown said her family believed the dead miner was her uncle, Terry Helms.  

"You've got the 12 that went in the buggy and the one who was dropped off at the belt," said Mouser, who was to identify the body. "It was my uncle who gets the belt running."  

The mine car was empty, which led rescuers to believe the others may have been safe somewhere else in the mine.  

"I'm really glad for all the others; it's a miracle," she said.  

Company officials stressed throughout the ordeal that the miners were trained to barricade themselves in a safe area in an emergency.  

"The experience is what helped get him get out, no doubt in my mind," said John Groves, whose brother Jerry Groves, a 30-year miner, was among those trapped.  

J. Davitt McAteer, who was director of the Mine Safety and Health Administration under the Clinton administration, said finding the miners alive had seemed improbable.  

"You had an explosion. You had a toxic atmosphere. They had to find some way to barricade themselves," he said.  

Associated Press writers Vicki Smith, Jennifer C. Yates and Mark Williams in Tallmansville contributed to this report.  

01-04-06 01:24 EST


Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.

First Joyful News, Then a Tragedy About Miners

  • After relatives were told 12 men were found alive, officials say hours later that only one survived.

  • By Jonathan Peterson and Stephen Braun, Times Staff Writers
    TALLMANSVILLE, W.Va. -- Only hours after family members were told that 12 coal miners had been found alive, officials announced this morning that in fact only one had survived Monday morning's explosion.

    Jubilation had broken out when word that rescuers near the mine entrance signaled that they had found a dozen men 41 hours after the deadly explosion. But three hours later, families learned that only one person, Randal McCloy Jr., had been transported alive to the hospital.
    Ben Hatfield, president of the International Coal Group, told the families gathered at the Sago Baptist Church that "there had been a lack of communication, that what we were told was wrong and that only one survived," said John Groves, whose brother Jerry Groves was one of the trapped miners.

    At that point, chaos broke out in the church and a fight started.

    Hatfield said the erroneous information spread rapidly when people overheard cell phone calls between rescuers and the rescue command center. In reality, rescuers had confirmed finding 12 miners and were checking their vital signs, he said.

    "The initial report from the rescue team to the command center indicated multiple survivors," Hatfield said during a news conference. "That information spread like wildfire, because it had come from the command center. It quickly got out of control."

    Hatfield said the company waited to correct the information until it knew more about the rescue.

    But that did little to comfort relatives this morning.

    Earl Casto, whose cousin was one of the dead miners recalled his roller-coaster rise and fall of emotions. He was inside the church last night and heard the good news of the rescue.

    "That was overwhelming," he said. He then left and went home, thinking that only one miner had died, as had been reported earlier.

    "We thought 12 was alive. When we went home I turned the television on there it was," he said of learning of the deaths. "It just flattened me."

    McCloy, 27, the only one to survive, was among the youngest of the group of trapped miners.

    "Youth always has its advantages," Dr. Lawrence Roberts said at a televised briefing today at West Virginia University's Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown.

    Roberts said McCloy appeared to have a collapsed lung and was very dehydrated but his brain showed signs of functioning.

    McCloy, of Simpson, W. Va., was transferred to Ruby from another hospital after he was rescued.

    Just before midnight, the roar of jubilant shouts from rescue crews near the mine entrance signaled that searchers proceeding cautiously 260 feet below ground had found all the remaining miners.

    "They're alive! They're alive!" family members whooped. Ignoring a pelting rain, they dashed toward Sago Baptist Church, where families had congregated for 41 agonizing hours since the miners were trapped.

    While the church bell pealed, relatives hugged and shook their heads in amazement. Lisa Ferris, a resident whose uncle was one of those originally said to be alive, raced to the church door in her bare feet. Sirens wailed as five Upshur County ambulances converged on the mine site.

    Eddie Hamner, waiting grimly near the church for news about his missing cousin, Junior Hamner, bolted upright when the bell sounded. "I was just standing here when the bell started ringing and you knew something good was happening," Hamner said. "You just have to have faith in God — and in the rescue."

    Today, there were few cars in the muddy parking lot outside the church, where families had gathered in frantic activity.
    Before they learned of the deaths, the scenes of midnight euphoria from the church lot were stirringly reminiscent of the celebration in Somerset, Pa., three years ago after nine drenched miners were pulled from a deep shaft after spending 77 hours trapped underground.

    Earlier Tuesday, search teams had recovered the body of a trapped miner after grueling daylong efforts to rescue the men amid dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. The wrenching news of the first fatality and the deepening mystery over the fate of the missing men gripped officials and anguished relatives in a tumult of emotion as night fell.
    It's a nightmare; it's the worst news we could bring," Hatfield said. His voice broke repeatedly as he described the explosion. "We're devastated and the families are devastated."

    Reporting evidence of a powerful explosion that appeared to have detonated in an abandoned area at the far end of the mine, rescuers also found the mine shaft tram that had transported the missing miners. But the metal bus was empty and showed no sign of blast damage — hints that the trapped men might have tried to flee the explosion "under their own power," Hatfield said.

    Several relatives fainted when they were informed of the miner's death by company officials and West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin during an early evening briefing inside the Sago Baptist Church. Others rushed ashen-faced from the scene, uncertain of the identity of the dead miner, each fearing he was a loved one.

    "Everybody's just broke up in the church," said Tamila Swiger, a local resident who emerged from the church after the earlier briefing.

    After comforting families, Manchin said he was "still praying for that miracle, but the odds are pretty much against us." The governor was visibly subdued, but also said he was "flabbergasted" by evidence that the miners had not been injured by the initial blast and appeared to have fled with their equipment.

    "There's no disturbance, no buckets, no anything," he said.

    By nightfall, the searchers had reached a remote section of the mine that showed clear signs of an explosion. Seals that had kept an abandoned part of the mine separate from the working mine shaft had been blown apart.

    Company officials had initially blamed the blast on a lightning strike during a heavy thunderstorm Monday morning. But Hatfield acknowledged that the force of the blast had come from a sector that "should normally have been inert and protected from an explosion. Somehow a fuel source and an emission came together."

    He had no further explanation about what the source of the explosion could have been. Hatfield said he was certain only "that we are not dealing with a roof cave-in or a collapse."

    Manchin said officials believed "there had to be methane gas or a buildup of fuel back there. There was equipment, no machinery, nothing back there that could have made this happen."

    About 11,200 feet from the mine entrance, rescuers found the dead miner in a sector where coal ore was dumped on a belt line to be transferred out of the shaft. Hatfield speculated that the man worked on the belt line, but he cautioned that it was not certain. Manchin said the miner had been dropped off by the tram at that location — a clear sign that was his work station.

    "Unfortunately we've not been able to confirm the deceased miner's identity," Hatfield said. He added that officials planned to bring the body out "as quickly as possible."

    About 700 feet away, searchers found the abandoned tram that had transported the other missing miners.

    The miners should have tried to make their way toward the shaft exit, Hatfield said. But he speculated that someone may have been confused and gone into the old work zone, an abandoned area.

    The miners normally move in and out on a track-operated tram. But after the explosion, rescue teams proceeded cautiously, stopping to brace roof supports and right toppled partitions used to help ventilate the far reaches of the mine shaft.

    The rescue teams had closed in after officials had shut down operations to drill from above to test air quality and communicate with the missing men. A video camera was lowered through one 260-foot-deep boring but found nothing during a methodical scan.

    Air pockets sampled by sensors lowered through a hole drilled by rescue crews found lethal levels of carbon monoxide. The toxic gas was released by the force of the explosion and also might have built up as the ventilation system failed at the far end of the shaft.

    Miners would not be expected to live more than 15 minutes without air tanks. Trying to rouse the missing men, rescue workers also banged on the heavy metal drill bit after it penetrated to the bottom of the 260-foot boring. But they heard no reply taps, officials said.

    "We pounded on the drill steel and received no response," Hatfield said.

    Many of the miners' relatives praised ICG's efforts to find the missing men and vouched for the firm's safety programs.

    But other Upshur County residents who worked in the mine in the recent past said that they had worried about the Sago Mine's safety record.

    Raymond Groves, a former miner whose brother, Jerry, was among the trapped workers, said that he left after a brief period working at Sago because of the mine's poor work conditions. "None of us liked the way it looked," Groves said. He said he had been concerned about the mine's excessively muddy flooring and had trouble at times staying on his feet.

    ICG finalized its purchase of the Sago Mine last fall, buying the operations from the Anker West Virginia Mining Co., which had gone bankrupt. Anker had owned the mine since April 2001, acquiring it from a local contract miner.

    The contract miner had in turn bought the mine two years earlier from Anker.

    The mine's federal health and safety violations had nearly doubled over the last year, rising from 68 citations in 2004 to 181 in 2005. Nearly half of the 2005 totals were deemed "significant and substantial," the government's term for serious mine safety problems. The deficiencies included problems with the firm's ventilation and roof support plans.

    At least 46 federal violations had been cited since October. And records from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration indicated that at least a dozen roof collapses occurred in the last six months.

    In addition, Terry Farley, a West Virginia mine safety official, confirmed that the Sago Mine was also cited by state regulators for 208 violations in 2005, up from 74 the year before.

    Mine safety experts said that the sudden rise in safety problems should have alarmed ICG when it was preparing to buy the mine.

    "That's a significant number for a mine that size," said Kenneth P. Katen, a former deputy assistant Labor secretary for the mine agency under the Reagan administration. "If you have a sudden increase of violations, that's something that should have drawn the new owners' attention."

    Peterson reported from Tallmansville and Braun from Washington. Times staff writer Michael Muskal contributed from Los Angeles.
    Joy Turns to Heartbreak as 12 Miners Confirmed Dead
    Only One Lives as Initial Reports of Multiple Survivors Prove Wrong

    TALLMANSVILLE, W.Va. (Jan. 4, 2006) - In a stunning and heartbreaking reversal, family members were told early Wednesday that 12 of 13 trapped coal miners were dead -- three hours after they began celebrating news that they were alive.

    The sole survivor, Randal McCloy, was in critical condition but showing no sign of brain damage or carbon monoxide poisoning after being trapped for 1 1/2 days, a doctor said. At 27, McCloy was the youngest in the group.

    The devastating new information about the others shocked and angered family members, who had rejoiced with Gov. Joe Manchin hours earlier when a report began to spread that 12 miners were alive. Rescue crews found the first victim earlier Tuesday evening.

    "I can only say there was no one who did anything intentionally other than risk their lives to save their loved ones," Manchin told ABC's "Good Morning America."

    "No one can say anything about that would make anything any better," he said. "Just a horrible situation."

    McCloy was unconscious but moaning when he arrived at a hospital, the hospital said.

    McCloy was transferred to the intensive care unit of West Virginia University's Ruby Memory Hospital at Morgantown, where he remained in critical condition. Doctors said he was under sedation and on a ventilator to aid his breathing and there was no immediate sign of brain damage.

    "He responds to stimuli and that's good," Dr. Lawrence Roberts said at a briefing. There was no sign of carbon monoxide poisoning, he said. Most of the other miners were in their 50s, and doctors said that McCloy's age may have helped him.

    Charles Green, McCloy's father-in-law, told ABC that when he found out his son-in law was the only survivor, "I was still devastated. My whole family's heart goes out to them other families."

    Thirteen miners had been trapped 260 feet below the surface of the Sago Mine since an explosion early Monday. The mine is located about 100 miles northeast of Charleston. As rescue workers tried to get to the men, families waited at the Sago Baptist Church during an emotional two-day vigil.

    But late Tuesday night, families began streaming out of the church, yelling "They're alive!" The church's bells began ringing and families embraced, as politicians proclaimed word of the apparent rescue a miracle.

    As an ambulance drove away from the mine carrying what families believed was the first survivor, they applauded, not yet knowing there were no others.

    Though the governor announced that there were 12 survivors, he later indicated he was uncertain about the news. As word buzzed through the church of survivors, he tried to find out what was going on, he said.

    "All of a sudden we heard the families in a euphoric state, and all the shouting and screaming and joyfulness, and I asked my detachments, I said, 'Do you know what's happening?' Because we were wired in and we didn't know," Manchin said.

    ''We had a miracle, and it was taken away from us.''

    -- Anna Casto, who lost her cousin

    International Coal Group Chief Executive Officer Ben Hatfield blamed the wrong information on a "miscommunication." The news spread after people overheard cell phone calls, he said. In reality, rescuers had only confirmed finding 12 miners and were checking their vital signs. At least two family members in the church said they received cell phone calls from a mine foreman.

    "That information spread like wildfire, because it had come from the command center," he said.

    Three hours later, Hatfield told the families that "there had been a lack of communication, that what we were told was wrong and that only one survived," said John Groves, whose brother Jerry Groves was one of the trapped miners.

    "There was no apology. There was no nothing. It was immediately out the door," said Nick Helms, son of miner Terry Helms.

    Chaos broke out in the church and a fight started. About a dozen state troopers and a SWAT team were positioned along the road near the church because police were concerned about violence. Witnesses said one man had to be wrestled to the ground when he lunged for mining officials.

    Company officials waited to correct the information until they knew more about the rescue, Hatfield said.

    "Let's put this in perspective. Who do I tell not to celebrate? I didn't know if there were 12 or one (who were alive)," Hatfield said.

    The explosion was the state's deadliest mining accident since November 1968, when 78 men -- including the uncle of Manchin -- died in an explosion at Consol's Farmington No. 9 mine in Marion County, an hour's drive north of here. Nineteen bodies remain entombed in the mountain. It was that disaster that prompted Congress to pass the Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969.

    It was also the worst nationwide since a pair of explosions tore through the Jim Walter Resources No. 5 mine in Brookwood, Ala., on Sept. 23, 2001, killing 13.

    Federal Department of Labor officials promised an investigation. Acting Assistant Secretary David Dye, who heads the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said it will include "how emergency information was relayed about the trapped miners' conditions."

    The 12 miners were found together behind a barrier they had constructed to block carbon monoxide gas. They were found near where the company had drilled an air hole early Tuesday in an attempt to contact the men.

    The miners had stretched a piece of fabric across an area about 20 feet wide to block out the gas, Hatfield said. The fabric is designed for miners to use as a barrier. Each miner had carried a breathing apparatus and had been able to use it, according to mining officials.

    The hole also was used to check air quality in the mine, which revealed high concentrations of carbon monoxide. The odorless, colorless gas can be lethal at high doses. At lower levels, it can cause headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea, fatigue and brain damage.

    Manchin, who had earlier said that the state believed in miracles, tried to focus on the news that one had survived.

    "We're clinging to one miracle when we were hoping for 13," he said.

    Associated Press writers Vicki Smith, Allen G. Breed and Mark Williams in Tallmansville contributed to this report.

    1/4/2006 07:58:24

    Copyright 2006 The Associated Press
    Miners Tried to Escape, Family Says

    By DAVID DISHNEAU Associated Press Writer

    TALLMANSVILLE, W.Va. Jan 11, 2006 — Footprints inside the Sago Mine indicate the trapped miners tried to use a mechanized mine car to force their way out after the explosion, family members of the sole survivor said.

    Rick McGee, the brother-in-law of survivor Randal McCloy Jr., said Tuesday that International Coal Group Inc. chief executive Ben Hatfield had shared the information with the family.

    "They found footprints," McGee said. The men "tried to go back out of the mine. This ain't hearsay. This came from Hatfield's mouth."

    Lara Ramsburg, a spokeswoman for Gov. Joe Manchin, said Tuesday that it's also the state's understanding that the men tried to escape. When they couldn't, "they then, being trained, turned around and went back to the face, where they barricaded themselves," she said. In a mine, the "face" is where miners are removing coal.

    By the time rescue workers reached the 12 trapped miners more than 41 hours after the Jan. 2 explosion, all but one had died of carbon monoxide poisoning. It was West Virginia's worst coal-mining accident in more than 35 years.

    The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration released documents Tuesday related to 17 of the 208 alleged safety violations at the mine in 2005.

    In the details of one report, dated Dec. 14, an MSHA inspector said a failure to address coal dust and excessive amounts of loose coal in some places 29 inches deep "showed a high degree of negligence for the health and safety of the miners."

    That area of the mine was not involved in last week's explosion and the problem was corrected by scooping up the loose coal and covering the area with rock dust.

    According to the documents released Tuesday, the company contested nine of the 17 violations, which included accumulation of loose coal and coal dust, and problems with ventilation and roof supports.

    Calls to an ICG spokesman were not immediately returned.

    McCloy, 26, remained in critical condition Wednesday morning, said a spokeswoman at West Virginia University's Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown. His doctors said Tuesday that tests showed a lot of activity on both sides of McCloy's brain.

    It is probably too early for us to tell what that means, but it is very important to us that he has a lot of brain activity," said Dr. Julian Bailes.

    Hatfield did not return repeated requests for comment about whether the miners made an escape effort. In a statement issued to The Associated Press, he said it was probable the miners believed a fire or debris from the explosion was blocking their path.

    In the days since the accident, Hatfield has said it's possible the men could have walked to a section of the mine with clean air, and then made their way out.

    In an interview with USA TODAY, Hatfield said if the trapped miners had wireless communication devices, it would have been possible to tell them of a safe way out. The only method of communication at Sago, a wired phone, was destroyed in the blast.

    Hatfield told USA TODAY his company would consider issuing radios to miners. In response to questions from the AP, the company declined to say if it has made changes in safety procedures at its other mines.

    Richard Gates, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration's lead investigator into the accident, said he hoped the venting at the mine, including the removal of methane gas in a section of the mine where the explosion apparently occurred, would be complete within a week. Until then, no one will be allowed inside.

    Federal investigators were also on the scene of a partial coal-mine collapse in Kentucky that killed one miner Tuesday near Pikeville.

    Cornelius Yates, 44, was operating a roof bolting machine when a section of the roof fell inside the Maverick Mining Company mine, killing him. He was the only miner harmed, said Chuck Wolfe, spokesman for the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing. The fallen roof section measured approximately 20 feet wide, 4 1/2 feet thick and 10 feet long.

    In West Virginia, two more funerals were held for the Sago miners, 59-year-old Fred Ware was remembered at Sago Baptist Church, the small church near the mine where families gathered to await word on the fate of their loved ones. A funeral for Terry Helms, 50, followed later in Masontown. Other funerals were held Sunday and Monday.

    Associated Press Writer Jennifer C. Yates in Morgantown contributed to this report.

    At least 65 miners still trapped in Mexico

    20 February 2006 16:30

    Rescue workers were unable overnight to reach some 65 or more miners trapped after an underground explosion inside a coal mine in northern Mexico.

    Authorities said there might have been as many as 80 miners inside the Pasta de Conchos mine when the explosion occurred early Sunday.

    Rescue operations are going slowly because of the need to proceed with great care, owing to the risk of new explosions.

    Relatives of the missing workers kept a vigil overnight at the entrance of the mine.

    15 workers were rescued from the mine yesterday, many of whom suffered burns and other injuries.

    The miners are understood to be trapped 2km underground, not far from the industrial city of Monterrey and 100km southwest of Eagle Pass, Texas.

    Feb. 20, 2006, 4:52AM
    Crews struggle to reach dozens after gas explosion

    MEXICO CITY - Rescue teams worked furiously late Sunday to reach dozens of Mexican coal miners trapped deep underground by a gas explosion.

    The explosion ripped through the mine at about 2 a.m. Sunday near the town of San Juan de Sabinas, about 85 miles south of the Texas border city of Eagle Pass, authorities said.

    A spokesman for the company that operates the mine said the trapped men were in "extreme danger."

    Relatives of the miners clamored for information. Mexican soldiers cordoned off the area around the mine, known as Pasta de Conchos, and Humberto Moreira, governor of Coahuila state, where the mine is located, traveled to the scene.

    But information was scarce.

    Local reports, state authorities and union officials put the number of missing miners at anywhere from 65 to 70. The number of injured varied from seven to a dozen. And the location of the trapped miners was anywhere from 445 feet underground to two miles below the surface, depending on the source.

    What was clear late Sunday was the anguish and the urgency, too, as rescuers searched for the trapped miners while relatives waited.

    Residents in Coahuila's mining country have been through this before. Hundreds have been killed in mining disasters in Coahuila over the past half-century.

    'Guarded' prognosis

    This time around, miners were working the graveyard shift in the mine when a gas pocket apparently exploded, mine manager Ruben Escudero said in a news conference Sunday afternoon.

    A dozen men managed to get out of the mine unharmed, and at least seven others were rescued with first- and second-degree burns and broken bones. None of their injuries were believed to be life-threatening.

    It was a different story for the trapped miners.

    The governor's office described their prognosis as "guarded." And mining company officials refused to even guess how long it might take to reach them. Rescuers had not established any communication with the miners late Sunday afternoon.

    While local reports disagreed on the location of the miners, one of the most detailed versions was that they had gone down a vertical shaft that is less than 500 feet deep, then ventured into one of several horizontal shafts.

    Then, according to this report, by Mexico's El Universal newspaper, the miners had traveled more than a half-mile from the mine shaft entrance when the explosion occurred.

    Specialists from the mining company launched a rescue operation and had been unsuccessfully trying to reach the trapped men since 3 a.m., Escudero said.

    Teams of volunteers from miners' relatives and government agencies had not been allowed to join in the rescue.

    Progress was slowed by concerns about other explosions or collapses in the mine shaft trapping the rescuers themselves.

    Relatives worry

    As rescue efforts continued, worried relatives of the trapped men gathered outside the gates of the mine, demanding information and offering to help. Government officials held briefings with small groups of relatives.

    "We want them to get precise, objective information so they can pass it along to their other loved ones," Moreira said.

    The miners trapped Sunday are employed by Grupo Industrial Minera Mexico, one of the world's largest mining concerns and a construction subcontractor.

    Coahuila produces some 12 million tons of coal per year.

    The coal fields around Sabinas supply fuel for three-quarters of Mexico's electrical plants and feed steel and other heavy industries in nearby Monterrey.

    A history of problems

    Some of the region's worst accidents of past decades include a March 31, 1969, explosion that killed as many as 180 men in Barroteran; a Jan. 25, 1988, accident that killed 37 and injured 20 in Barroteran; and a January 1998 explosion at Mine Four-and-a-Half near Sabinas that killed 37 and injured 19.

    A municipal official in Sabinas was quoted on Mexican radio Sunday afternoon saying that the No. 8 shaft at Pasta de Conchos mine did not meet safety standards.

    "For that reason these type of accidents always happen in the coal zone," said Ernesto Cabral, identified as the technical support official in San Juan de Sabinas.

    Tragedy in U.S.

    North of the border, federal mine safety officials have been under fire this year for not doing more to prevent accidents in the United States.

    Separate mining accidents killed 14 people in West Virginia this year.

    David Dye, acting administrator of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, announced plans last week to boost fines against unsafe mining operators.

    He also urged mine companies to focus on safety.

    "I encourage all mine operators to talk with their miners and managers about the importance of safety in their operations to ensure that their miners return to their families safe and healthy at the end of their shifts," he said in a statement.



    172 missing in flooded Chinese mine: report

    August 17, 2007

    Some 172 people were missing early Saturday after a mine in east China's Shandong province was flooded by surface water, state media reported.

    The Zhangzhuang mine in Xintai city, 450 kilometres (280 miles) south of Beijing, was flooded Friday afternoon and 172 people were still missing as of early Saturday, Xinhua news agency said.

    Shandong province acting governor Jiang Daming and deputy governor Wang Junmin were at the scene coordinating rescue efforts, it said.

    The cause of the accident was being investigated.

    No more details were immediately available.

    China's coal mines are the most dangerous in the world and fatal accidents happen almost every day.

    More than 4,700 workers were killed last year, according to official figures, although independent labour groups put the real death toll at up to 20,000 annually, with many accidents covered up.

    Copyright AFP 2007



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