Wilkes-Barre, PA Coal Mine Disaster, June 1919 - Powder Exploded

Powder On Train Bearing Workers Into Coal Mine and Loss of Life In Flames Follows At Wilkes-Barre, Penn.

WILKES-BARRE, Pa., June 5. ----Seventy-eight men were killed by an explosion and a fire in the Baltimore Number 2 tunnel of the Delaware and Hudson Coal company today and 31 were injured, according to a list given out by the company at noon. Forty-one bodies had then been identified.

The train was drawn by a motor. The rear car carried 12 kegs of black powder used for blasting loose the coal in the chambers. The trolley wire snapped when the train had gone about 200 feet from the entrance to the mine. The wire sputtered and the sparks it emitted touched off the powder.

There was a roar and in an instant every man and boy on the train was either dead or dying. Mangled bodies were found everywhere by the rescue crews which instantly rushed into the mine. Firemen quickly put out the flames which followed the blast.

Violation of mine laws of the state caused the 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 with a dozen kegs of powder. Investigation will be made to determine whether the company was responsible or the men.

WILKES-BARRE, Pa., June 5----Seventy-five to 100 mine workers were killed and many injured at the Baltimore No. 2 tunnel of the Delaware and Hudson Company, near here, early today. A car of black powder attached to a trip of cars on which the men were riding to their chambers in the mine exploded. An electric motor drew the cars. The trolley wire broke and sparks ignited the powder.

Men were blown everywhere, but most of the deaths were caused by fire and suffocation.

A train of empty cars was sent to the mouth of the tunnel to take the men into the chambers. One hundred men piled into the cars, which were drawn by an electric motor. Near the end of the train was a car of black powder. John McGroarty drove the motor.

When the train was 200 feet in the tunnel, the trolley wire broke and fell. Sparks ignited the powder and instantly there was an explosion that sent the bodies of the men flying in all directions. Flames caused the most loss of life, many bodies being burned to a crisp. Others died of suffocation trying to reach safety.

When rescuers reached the tunnel there were deal and dying scattered everywhere. Doctors and nurses were somewhat late in reaching the scene because many were abed when the accident happened.

The East End last night welcomed home boys from the 311th Field Artillery. Bands were out, flags were flying, red fire burned people laughed and shouted. Within 12 hours all was changed, many homes being made sad. Some of the soldiers had their joy turned to despair. Their fathers are among the dead.

Identification of the bodies was almost impossible. Many were charred beyond recognition. At 9:30 a.m. it was said that between 75 and 100 had been killed or had died from injuries.

Hundreds of women, men and children gathered about the tunnel. Shrieking and crying they lifted the blankets from the bodies. Women fainted, men lost their nerve and children ran away.

It has been established that the explosion was caused by a break in the trolley wire. The wire gained contact with the powder and sparks did the rest.

The death list was made large by the flames and the sulfur fumes which filled the tunnel. The fire did not last long.
Rescuers got into the mine with hose and played streams of water on the flames. While they were doing this the cries of the dying and the injured were heard above the roar of the flames.

Today’s catastrophe was next to he greatest this section of the anthracite fields has experienced.

Today’s accident was a result of violation of the law. Permission was given the men to ride the trip to their place of work and a special train was provided for that purpose. It is a violation of the mine laws to carry powder on a train. The law is specific that powder and other explosives must be transported alone. There were a dozen kegs of powder in one of the rear cars, all of which were exploded.

Fitchburg Daily Sentinel, Fitchburg, MA 5 Jun 1919