Union, WV Coal Mine Explosion, Nov 1951
TWELVE MINERS DIE IN EXPLOSION AT MECHANIZED CABIN CREEK PIT.
IMPROPER BLAST METHOD BLAMED BY MINES DEPT.
FOUR ESCAPE BLAST UNHURT; VICTIMS ARE REMOVED AFTER LONG EFFORT.
Twelve coal miners were killed early yesterday in a coal dust explosion deep in the modern, mechanized mine of the Truax-Traer Coal Co., at United, 28 miles from Charleston in the Cabin Creek field.
Four other miners and a 16-man maintenance crew on the 11 p.m. shift made a miraculous escape from the blast-torn mine. They were not injured.
A State Mines Dept. officiala blamed the explosion on improper blasting methods.
It was late yesterday afternoon, more than 15 hours after the disaster, before weary rescue crews trudged out of the mouth of the mountainside mine bearing on stretchers the blanket-wrapped burned and broken bodies of the victims.
The casualties and survivors:
LAWRENCE A. HAWKS, 32, mine foreman, Notomine, wife and four children.
ALBERT DeRAIMO, 33, section foreman, Chelyan, wife and two children.
ORVILLE POSTALWAIT, 53, Stinson, Calhoun County, wife and six surviving children.
ESTEL BEE POSTALWAIT, 34, Duck, Clay County, son or ORVILLE POSTALWAIT, wife and two sons.
FRANK THOMAS DAVIS, 25, Sharon, wife and one child.
DENNIT S. (Brother) STANLEY, 25, Obley, wife.
JAMES G. STONE, 38, Sharon, wife and seven children.
LESLIE M. SLACK, 47, Dry Branch, wife and one child.
BERT C. CLENDENIN, 25, United, wife and two children.
FARRIER LLOYD BUTLER, 31, Miami, wife and one child.
EUGENE DEBS BARKER, 42, Ronda, wife and two children.
JOHN ANDY BARKER, 25, United, wife and two children.
The four who were working in another section and escaped were:
GAPEY JOSEPH CARSON, Chesapeake.
WILLIAM PRITT, Decota.
JOHNNY AKERS, Ronda.
ALVIN KINCAID, Kincaid.
One of the coal-blackened men who escaped still was at the mouth of the slope mine late in the afternoon. Distraught and haggard, he steadily refused to talk about the matter to newsmen.
Several hours after the bodies had been taken to five separate mortuaries, first official explanation of the cause of the explosion was advanced.
A State Mines Department official said a study at the originating point showed that the explosion came as a result of improper blasting methods used by the maintenance crew in one section of the mine.
He said the men had knocked down supporting posts under some slate, but it did not fall. They placed several shots and then strung the shooting cable back to an electrically-operated machine to detonate the charge instead of using the conventional battery.
This practice is forbidden by law and mines department rules, he said. The detonation set off the coal dust in the powerful explosion.
The men used a type of charge known as an "adobe shot," he said. This is when the shot is placed against the surface and then covered with a mound of dirt, packed down. The blast from this type of shot in unconfined and spreads.
"If the mine had not been rock dusted as well as it was," the spokesman said, "it would have blown to the next mountain."
State Mines Chief Arch J. Alexander has scheduled a formal investigation "within a few days" and federal inspectors from the U.S. Bureau of Mines are scheduled to reach the mines today for a formal inquiry.
W. R. Cuthbert, chief engineer for Traux-Traer properties in West Virginia, said it definitely was not a gas explosion, that the mine was not gassy.
More than 40 men labored throughout the day to clear the passageway of rock and slate. They were forced to re-erect the timbers to hold the roof as they went along.
Because of the foul air, they had to carry "good air" with them as they also built a bratticework of planks and burlap to tunnel clean atmosphere along with them as they advanced.
The mine mouth is located halfway up a steep mountain. The community of United lies at the foot of the mountain in a narrow valley.
As the misty, foggy day wore on, a crowd of 150 persons milled about the leveled off space in front of the entrance waiting for the appearance of the bodies of the victims.
Some of the spectators were wives, parents and children of the victims. Periodically, a woman's sob could be heard over the murmur of the spectators.
A chilling drizzle had fallen as the first blanket-shrouded body was brought out. Spectators voices dropped to whispers. An occassional sob arose.
There was no identification announcements made as the bodies appeared. Ambulances were on the scene after an all-day vigil to carry them away.
In the forenoon, Cuthbert expressed the feeling there was a "very long chance" that some of the 12 victims might be alive.
Veteran miners, long on experience in mine disasters, shook their heads negatively and recounted the number of hours that had ensued.
The explosion occurred 3,800 feet from the entrance in the third left section. The four who escaped were working in another section even deeper underground.
All of the men were performing maintenance and supply chores, readying it for coal production on the next shift.
Part of their jobs were to inspect and lubricate machinery for the coming shifts, and make sure the mine was in proper order.
Rescue operations were also slowed down because power to heavy-duty machinery was cut off. Officials explained that if there was any gas in the mine as the result of the explosion, an electrical spark could ignite it, causing another serious blast.
One miner who had worked on the early evening shift said the explosion area had been left in good condition and that he could not understand what had gone wrong.
Coal from the mine is brought out on a big, rubber conveyor belt and is channeled down to the railroad cars on a chute covered by a galvanized metal roof. The chute is about 350 feet long.
The roof furnished a guage of the explosion. Four-fifths of it was covered by a coating of coal dust blown out of the conveyor belt entrance. The last part of the chute was gleaning and clean.
Two automobiles were parked on the level area before the big mine fan outlet. Jutting out from the air duct is an "explosion door" designed so as to divert the force of a blast away from the fan and protect it from damage.
The powerful blast shattered windows of the automobiles, dented the side of one and covered all in a thick coating of black coal dust.
The air in the explosion shattered mine was so bad that spectators were barred for a time from the area of the exhaust fan which was drawing fumes from underground.
Charleston Gazette West Virginia 1951-11-01