Wilkes-Barre, PA Coal Mine Disaster, June 1919 - 83 Killed


Powder Explodes on Mine Train in Tunnel at Wilkes-Barre.

Eighty-three men were killed and 50 others burned and maimed, several of whom have since died as the result of an explosion of blasting powder in a car attached to a trainload of miners being transported to their work in a tunnel in the east end section of the city of Wilkes-Barre early last Thursday morning.

More than 100 mine workers were crowded into what is known as a trip of mine cars drawn by a motor. The rear car carried 12 kegs of black powder use for blasting loose the coal in the chambers. The train had penetrated the tunnel about two hundred feet when, one of the survivors states, the overheated trolley wire sagged and touching a steel powder keg formed a short circuit. In an instant there was a shower of sparks and then the powder gave way with a terrific blast and a great sheet of flame drawn by the air current enveloped the helpless men who were huddled closely together in the cars with no possible chance to escape.

Flames caused the greater loss of life, many of the bodies being burned to a crisp. Others who were burned and were trying to reach safety died of suffocation. Terribly mangled bodies were found everywhere by the rescue crews which instantly rushed into the mine.

Carelessness and violation of mine laws of the State caused the great loss of life. One of the most drastic provisions of the anthracite mine code is the section forbidding the transportation of men on a car or train, which carries explosives. Yet the train of little cars conveying its freight of miners had attached to its rear a car of powder. Investigation will disclose whether the men or the company is responsible for this violation of the law.

The East End of Wilkes-Barre was the scene of great gaiety Wednesday night. That section of the city welcomed home men from the 311th Field Artillery. Bands were out, flags were flying, red fire burned, persons laughed and shouted. With-in twelve hours all was changed; many homes were made sad. Some of the soldiers had their joy turned into despair. Their fathers were among the dead.

Deaths at the hospitals since the disaster have brought the list of fatalities up to 95. Forty-two injured men are still in the hospitals, and the recovery of a number is hopeless.

The Wellsboro Gazette, Wellsboro, Pa. 12 Jun 1919