More bodies found in US mine blast

An explosion ripped through a West Virginia mine owned by Massey Energy in the deadliest coal mine disaster in decades.

More bodies found in US mine blast

Twenty-five coal miners died and four were still missing deep underground on Tuesday after an explosion ripped through a West Virginia mine owned by Massey Energy in the deadliest coal mine disaster in decades.

The accident at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, about 30 miles (48 km) south of the state capital of Charleston, is owned by Massey's Performance Coal subsidiary.

Mine officials said the death toll rose to 25 after rescuers discovered more bodies underground hours after the blast which occurred in the mid-afternoon on Monday.

Kevin Stricklin of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration told reporters four men were still missing.

"This is still a rescue operation," Stricklin said. "We can't give up hope at all. All we have left is hope."

The mine has two emergency chambers stocked with food, water and enough air to survive for four days, and rescuers were still hoping the missing miners had made their way there.

But about 50 rescuers were forced to pull back from the search area because methane gas and smoke underground made it too hazardous to continue the search.

The high concentration of gases suggests there may have been a second explosion, Stricklin said.

Rescuers intended to drill a borehole from the surface above the mine to try to reach the missing men.

Some of the miners may have died from the force of the "toxic blast" while others could have been killed by inhaling the gases, Stricklin said.

The death toll of 25 makes it the deadliest U.S. mining disaster since 1984 when 27 miners died in a fire in Utah, according to the United States Mine Rescue Association.

Sheri McGraw of the American Red Cross said the gathering of families awaiting news of the miners was "The most horrifying thing I've ever seen."

The families were initially stoic but broke down when they were told the latest fatality figures from the mine, she said. The Red Cross will provide counseling for the families.

Massey CEO Don Blankenship said earlier the company was "taking every action possible to locate and rescue those still missing."

West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin said on his website: "For those families who are still waiting for news on their missing loved ones, I want them to know that we are doing everything possible in cooperation with federal officials and the company to get our miners out as quickly and safely as possible."

Safety violations

Massey, headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, is the largest coal producer in Central Appalachia with operations in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia.

Massey said on its website its accident rate fell to an all-time low for the company in 2009. It said its safety record last year was stronger than the industry average for the sixth consecutive year.

But, according to federal records, the Upper Big Branch Mine has had three fatalities since 1998 and has a worse than average injury rate over the last 10 years. Two of the miners died in roof collapses in 1998 and 2001, while a third was electrocuted in 2003 when repairing an underground car.

Ellen Smith, the editor of Mine Safety and Health News, said the Upper Big Branch mine had been repeatedly cited for safety violations going back years and continuing this year.

The mine, which employs just over 200 people, uses the "longwall mining" method in to tear coal from a lengthy face, leading the ground behind it to collapse. Critics say the method can cause surface subsidence and damage to buildings.

In the worst coal mine disaster in U.S. history, 362 miners died in an explosion in 1906 in West Virginia's Monongah mine.

In January 2006, 12 miners died after an explosion in the Sago Mine, run by International Mines Corp in Tallsmansville, West Virginia, according to the U.S. Mine Rescue Association.


Reuters

Güncelleme Tarihi: 06 Nisan 2010, 13:47

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