Explosion in mining pit leaves 25 dead
Published 07/04/2010 | 05:00
Families in West Virginia's 'coal country' are mourning the loss of at least 25 miners in the worst pit accident in the US for at least a quarter of a century.
An explosion blamed on a build-up of methane gas ripped through the Upper Big Branch mine, 50km from the town of Montcoal on Monday.
The mine, which is owned by Massey Energy, had a safety violation over its ventilation only last month.
"Before you knew it your ears stopped up. You couldn't hear and the next thing you know, it's just like you're right in the middle of a tornado," Steve Smith, a miner, told ABC Radio. "We were able to make it since we weren't that far underground."
Rescuers have found 25 bodies but four miners are still missing. Rescue crews had to create a road to the mine before they could begin drilling three 335-metre shafts to release methane and carbon monoxide.
It was the fourth fatal accident at Upper Big Branch, which employs about 200 miners, in the past 12 years. One miner was electrocuted while repairing equipment in 2003 and two were killed in roof collapses in 2001 and 1998.
The confirmed death toll made it the worst mine accident in the US since 1984, when 27 died in a fire at the Emery Mining Corp mine in Orangeville, Utah. (© The Times, London)