7 Killed in West Virginia Mine Explosion


On Monday, an explosion happened in Massey Energy Co.’s Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County making at least 7 miners dead and 19 others trapped in the mine. Rescue teams were trying to identify the location where the 19 workers trapped underground.


According to State mining director Ron Wooten, the blast happened around 3p.m. and in the south of Charleston. No more detailed information about the extent of damage was provided.


According to federal Mine Safety and Health Administration spokeswoman Amy Louviere, the agency sent nine rescue teams usually made up of six members each to the site to help pulling people out of the mine. However, whether these teams headed underground or not has not been clear.


The mine is under the management of Massey subsidiary Performance Coal Co. Engineering consultant Randy Harris said that the mine is equipped with caches of extra oxygen along emergency escape routes and airtight chambers so that miners can have enough air to survive in four days if they can’t make their way out.


Statistics from Federal records show that since 1998, three mine workers have been dead at Upper Big Branch.


Upper Big Branch extracts the bulk of its coal using a machine called a longwall miner that uses a cutting head to move back and forth across the working face somewhat like a 1,000-foot-long deli slicer. According to mine safety agency, the mine produced 1.2 million tons of coal in 2009.


Massey Energy is a coal extractor in the United States whose base is in Richmond, Virginia. The company controls 2.3 billion tons of proven and probable coal reserves in Southern West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky, Southwest Virginia and Tennessee. The company is listed in America’s top five coal producers and is among the industry’s most profitable.


As explosion often occur in Virginia coal mines, all underground mines are required to have wireless communications and tracking systems to survive and other disasters. According to engineering consultant Harris, not all mines in West Virginia meet with federal standards but all have systems complying with state requirements.


The deadliest year in U.S. coal mining history was 1907 when the death record reached 3,242. That year, the nation’s deadliest mine explosion killed 358 people near Monongah, West Virginia.