Amonate, VA Gas Explosion In Coal Mine, Dec 1957



Amonate, Va. (AP) -- Rescue workers today recovered the bodies of 11 milers killed late yesterday when a gas explosion trapped 25 men below ground in a mine straddling the Virginia-West Virginia border. Fourteen miners were brought out of the colliery uninjured shortly after midnight.
Canvas was draped over the victims, carried out of Mine No. 31 of the Pocahontas Fuel Co. on a coal car. About 180 persons looked on in the first gray light of an overcast day.
The miners were hemmed in 500 feet underground. Company officials said all the men originally trapped by the explosion were believed to be accounted for.
Amonate is in southwest Virginia, 20 miles west of Bluefield, Va.-W.Va.
Bodies of the dead were removed from the sprawling mine through a shaft located in West Virginia, nearly three miles from the main entry shaft where the survivors were brought out.
This was the second disastrous explosion in Pocahontas Fuel Co. mines in the border coalfields in 11 months. A February gas explosion at a mine near Bishop, Va., snuffed out 37 lives.
Names of the victims and survivors of yesterday's blast were released at mid-morning.
The victims, their mine jobs, and survivors, are:
WILLIAM R. AMOS, 50, Warriormine, W. Va., fireboss; wife Melvina Amos, seven children.
JAMES CHILES, 51, Valls Creek, W. Va., boom man; wife Myrtle Chiles, two children.
JAMES ROBERT RUTHERFORD, 28, Warriormine, W. Va., machine helper; wife Ruby Rutherford, two children.
LLOYD E. VEST, 36, Freeman, W. Va., machine operator; wife Sadie Vest, three children.
ARNOLD W. YOUNG, Newhall, W. Va., roof bolter; wife Thelma Young, five children.
ARCHIE REECE ALICIA, 32, Rt. 1, Cedar Bluff, Va., brakeman; wife Dora C. Alicia, three children.
HOWARD FIELDS, (no age), Bandy, section foreman; married, two children.
MAIN B. HARRISON, 43, Bandy, machine operator; wife, Irene Harrison, five children.
GILMER EUGENE MONK, 26, Rt. 1, North Tazewell, Va., electrician; wife, Bobbie Joyce Monk, two children.
JOHN EDMOND NUNLAY, 30, Rt. 1, Bluefield, Va., roof builder; wife, Alease Nunlay, four children.
HARMAN BOYD PERRY, 50, North Tazewell, Va., motorman; wife, Frankie Perry, three children.
The 14 miners who were brought out of the mine uninjured were identified as follows:
WOODROW EVANS, 42, Amonate, foreman.
(Ages and addresses of the resced miners were not available.
Officials said there was no indication as to how the blast occurred. An inquiry will be conducted by the West Virginia Department of Mines at a date to be set later. West Virginia will make the inquiry because coal is taken out of Mine No. 31 on the West Virginia side of the border.
The mine will not be reopened until a full inspection is made by federal, state, company and union officials.
William Fullerton, special assistant to the President of Pocahontas Fuel Co., said the bodies of three men were reached about 4 a.m. The other eight were located about two hours later. Plans were made to remove all the bodies at one time.
The blast trapped men in two sections -- a joy loading area (site of an automatic coal loading machine) and a continuous mining area (also the site of automatic coal loading equipment). The survivors were found by rescue workers at the site of the joy loading section some 1,000 feet from where the 11 other men met death.
The rescue work was painstaking as rescuers were forced to inch their way along slate-clogged passages filled with smoke and deadly gases. They carried oxygen tanks strapped to their backs.
Officials said the mine was known as a "gaseous" mine. It was indicated that equipment used to disburse the gas, present in varied quantities in all coal mines, had failed to function properly and the accumulation had been touched off by a spark of unknown origin.
Fullerton said the families of the trapped miners had kept a vigil at a station two miles from the disaster scene through most of the night but had been urged to return to their homes early this morning to await developments.
Although only eight men had been listed as working in the continuous loading area, company officials later discovered 11 men were there.
Ironically, some of the 11 might have been due for a layoff today because of a 70 per cent cut in personnel.
Officials of the Pocahontas Fuel Co., operators of the southwest Virginia mine, said 534 of the 775 men employed at the operation -- Mine No. 31 -- were due to be cut off because of a decrease in coal orders.
The 14 survivors were pronounced in good physical condition and were sent home. They came out of the mine about 12:05 a.m., some 5 1/2 hours after the blast.
Survivors said the concussion was worse than the blast itself.
"It knocked the sandwich out of my hand and knocked me over," said Mitchell Harris of Cedar Bluff.
Harris said there "was no doubt but what it was a gas explosion." State and federal mine officials rated the mine as gaseous.
The blast was described by Harris as "just like a hot blast of wind. There was no fire -- just smoke and dust and a bad odor."
The survivors were brought out from a joy loading (a type of mechanical operation section of the mine some 500 feet underground and about a mile and a half from the mine shaft entry on the Virginia side of the operation that straddles the Virginia-West Virginia border.
Their discovery some five hours after the first blast was the first contact with the men during the time they were trapped.
The men built two canvas barricades for protection but spent most of the five-hour period sitting, thinking, praying.
"If some of those men didn't pray," said Harris, "they should have."
About 250 men were working in the mine at the time of the blast.

Charleston Daily Mail West Virginia 1957-12-28