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Survivor of Sago disaster, others sue bosses for miners’ deaths
The Militant - New York,NY,USA
September 1, 2006
BY CINDY JAQUITH
PITTSBURGH—Randal McCloy, the sole survivor of the Sago Mine disaster in West Virginia, and the families of two miners killed at Sago have each filed lawsuits charging the companies involved with unsafe practices that sent 12 miners to their deaths.
A methane gas explosion ripped through the Sago Mine January 2 from a portion of the mine that had been sealed off with Omega block, made of lightweight fiber material. One miner was killed from the impact of the blast. The other 11 died from carbon monoxide poisoning while waiting for rescue teams, which took 41 hours to reach the trapped workers.
The suit by McCloy names as defendants the International Coal Group (ICG), the conglomerate that owns Sago; Wolf Run Mining Co., an ICG subsidiary that runs the mine; CSE Corp., which makes the oxygen air packs used at the mine; Burrell Mining Products, Inc., which manufactures Omega blocks; GMS Mine Repair and Maintenance, a contracting company that built the Omega block seals that burst with the explosion; and Raleigh Mine and Industrial Supply, Inc., which sold the blocks used for the seals.
The other two suits also name ICG and other related companies as defen dants. “During 2005, the Mine Safety and Health Administration cited the Sago Mine more than 200 times for violations of federal safety regulations,” McCloy’s suit states. “That same year, state regulators issued the mine an additional 144 citations.” It points out that the accident rate at Sago was roughly three times the national average.
Noting that ICG claims a lightning strike caused the explosion, the McCloy suit argues that the owners had not insured proper installation of arrestors to prevent a lightning strike from triggering an underground explosion.
“Regardless of the ignition source, the explosion…was possible only because the seal in that area did not in fact ‘seal’ that area and a deadly combustible mixture of oxygen and methane was present,” the suit says.
“This deadly mixture of methane gas and oxygen pre-existed the lightning strike of January 2, 2006, at or about 6:26 a.m.,” the suit explains. “This deadly mixture of methane gas and oxygen was the direct result of the illegal and unsafe mining practices of the defendant Wolf Run.”
McCloy’s suit says the mine seals made of Omega block were “shoddily constructed.” The Omega block itself “could not reasonably protect coal miners from underground explosions when used to construct mine seals.”
As for the air packs the miners carried, manufactured by CSE, “at least four” of the self-contained rescue devices, designed to provide an hour’s supply of oxygen, failed to function, preventing miners from fleeing the area filled with smoke by the blast.
“As a result of the mass malfunction, Mr. McCloy and the other miners with working rescuers had to share their already limited supply of oxygen with those having none,” the complaint reads.
GMS was providing contract labor at Sago and does so at a number of mines throughout northern Appalachia. GMS employee James Scott testified in the Sago investigation that he had never before built seals using Omega blocks and that his work crew was himself and two inexperienced miners.
In June, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) filed a lawsuit to force the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to periodically inspect oxygen packs and provide emergency training in their use to all coal miners. U.S. District Judge John Bates threw the suit out of court August 23.
In another court decision that day, the Sago mine owners were rebuffed in their demand to know the identities of miners who were being represented by the UMWA in the ongoing investigation of the disaster. Another federal judge ruled that MSHA can keep these names confidential. “We’re glad that the judge upheld the right of these workers to have representation and to do so without fear of being exposed and being intimidated by the company,” UMWA communications director Phil Smith told AP.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Omega block seals continue to exist in mines across Appalachia. Following the Sago disaster, five miners were killed when an explosion ripped through the Darby mine in Kentucky, destroying Omega block seals.
“Every sealed area in every underground coal mine in West Virginia and throughout the United States should be considered a potential time bomb—and treated accordingly,” said J. Davitt McAteer, director of MSHA under the Clinton administration, in a preliminary report on the Sago disaster issued in July. He said the blocks at Sago were “pulverized” and “reduced to the consistency of flour.” McAteer has been appointed by West Virginia governor Joseph Manchin to conduct an investigation at Sago.
According to McAteer, there are 942 Omega block seals in 56 mines in West Virginia. Sixteen of Virginia’s 118 mines use Omega block seals, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. An investigation by Kentucky officials following the Darby explosion revealed 236 Omega block seals used in that state. According to Joseph Sbaffoni, director of Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Mine Safety, there are no permanent Omega seals in Pennsylvania mines. But McAteer estimates that between 40 and 50 such seals exist in that state too.
Oversight failures in fatal mine fire
MINE DANGERS / MINE SAFETY
Sunday, September 03, 2006
By Dennis B. Roddy, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
LOGAN, W.Va. -- A federal inspector responsible for overseeing safety in a mine where two men died in a Jan. 19 fire said he had no means of properly checking water pressure in a fire sprinkler system which failed to work when needed.
Months before the fire at the Aracoma Coal Co.'s Alma 1 Mine, officials in the Mine Safety and Health Administration's District 4 office in southern West Virginia canceled a training session on how to check the water pressure along fire suppression systems inside mines, according to internal memoranda obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"At that time, I didn't have anything to check the water sprinklers with," said Edward Paynter, whose inspections inside Alma 1 failed to spot the defective sprinklers.
The fire erupted on a conveyor belt inside the Alma 1 mine and smoke poured through gaps in walls intended to seal off the air in the belt area, fatally stranding two miners, Ellery "Elvis" Hatfield, 47, and Don I. Bragg, 33. Investigators suspect there was not enough water pressure to stop the fire.
Since the fire, both Mr. Paynter and Minness Justice, another inspector from MSHA's Logan district office, have been informed they are subjects of an internal review investigation into whether they properly inspected the Alma 1 mine.
The Alma 1 blaze broke out 17 days after a more widely publicized mining accident, the Jan. 2 explosion at Sago Mine in the state's northern region which killed 13 men. But where the Sago disaster was later blamed on a combination of bad luck, balky respirators and inadequate standards, conditions at Alma 1 suggest rules already on the books had not been followed, inspectors had not received training needed to perform some crucial checks and government safety inspections by the MSHA field office in the Logan district office had been incomplete.
A June 25, 2005 memorandum by Richard McDorman, an instructor at the agency's National Mine Academy in Beckley, W.Va., to Ray McKinney, then chief of the agency's coal group, noted a series of training meetings on water pressure inspection in the agency's 11 districts. Under District 4, which oversaw Aracoma, a Massey Energy subsidiary, was the notation: "Will present program to supervisors during staff meeting in July." An asterisk next to that notation directed Mr. McKinney to a postscript: "District 4 canceled my visit."
In March, as an MSHA investigation team was in the midst of its probe into the Alma 1 deaths, Mr. McDorman sent an update to Mr. McKinney that mentioned District 4: "Was contacted and told that July staff meeting was full. I was told maybe next month.
"Next month hasn't arrived."
Neither Mr. McKinney nor Mr. McDorman would comment on the memos, with both referring a reporter to MSHA's public spokesman. That spokesman, Dirk Fillpot, issued a statement on behalf of MSHA director David Dye.
"MSHA is conducting a thorough investigation into the Aracoma Alma Mine No. 1 accident, and also is conducting a complete review of the agency's performance at the mine prior to the accident. As is the case with any internal review, if the agency identifies any deficiencies in the agency's performance, MSHA will take appropriate actions to address them," the statement says.
Federal regulations require fire suppression systems inside mines to provide 50 pounds per square inch of water pressure in order to deliver water throughout the mine in the event of fire.
Sprinklers above conveyor belt lines are considered essential because the belts frequently spill coal and coal dust on rollers that, if badly aligned or defective, can freeze up, creating friction hot enough to trigger fires. Investigators suspect this as the cause of the Alma 1 fire.
A series of interviews and documents reviewed by the Post-Gazette show that the water lines in Alma 1 lacked the water pressure to fight a fire, and that conveyor belts inside the mine often had spilled coal and defective rollers.
Mr. Paynter and Mr. Justice are now the subjects of an investigation by an MSHA Internal Review team, and Mr. Paynter, in an interview last week, acknowledged that investigators had told him they did not believe he could have completed safety inspections at the mine, especially along the conveyor belts, in the time his inspection reports say.
Federal regulations require water lines in underground coal mines provide 50 pounds of pressure capable of spraying 50 gallons per minute from a fire nozzle. Sprinkler systems hooked in to such lines must provide at least one-quarter gallon of water per minute per square foot on the belt line.
Fire suppression at Alma 1 was an especially important detail because the mine had received a waiver permitting it to use air flowing across the conveyor belt as "intake," or incoming fresh air, in sections in which miners were working. That means that when the fire broke out, the smoke, instead of being carried out of the mine, was blown back into the area the men were working.
Ordinarily, conveyor belts are supposed to be set up on an air outtake, through which old air flows out of a mine.
Federal regulations required a fire suppression system that, according to inspection records in the mine in the months leading up to the accident, were not always followed.
Field inspection notes and citation records show that for two months in a row last year, an inspector discovered that belt lines inside Alma 1 lacked the 500 feet of fire hose called for in federal regulations. Mr. Paynter, then in charge of inspections at Alma 1, cited the mine for lacking fire hose along a 6-foot-wide conveyor belt line Aug. 16 and again Sept. 12 for failing to have placed hose along another belt line.
Follow-up reports say the mine provided the hose after being cited.
Two months later, when Mr. Justice had taken over inspections at Alma 1, he discovered a fire suppression system at a battery charging station in the No. 2 working section, the area in which both Mr. Hatfield and Mr. Bragg worked, had been installed but not hooked up.
"It was in place but could not function," Mr. Justice wrote Nov. 28.
Two days later, a follow-up report noted, "Management has ordered a new type of suppression system; the delivery is pending."
Lack of training
Against that backdrop of missing or nonfunctioning equipment, inspectors routinely examined fire suppression systems without fully testing their functionality, according to an interview with Mr. Paynter.
On May 16, 2005, according to Mr. Paynter's inspection field notes, he examined belt lines throughout the mine. Along the mine's 6-foot coal conveyor belt, its largest, he reported checking "CO sensors and sensorline," the belt's fire alarm system, and "waterline and fire outlet valves."
He recorded no violations.
At the No. 6 conveyor belt drive, he reported checking "fire suppress/on/off controls."
Whether the line had the required 50 pounds per square inch water pressure necessary to deliver enough water onto a burning belt is unclear.
Mr. Paynter told the Post-Gazette he turned the on-off valve on the water system and checked to see if the release of pressure on the line would cause the belt to stop.
"I know it did what it was required to do when I checked it," he said.
In fact, Mr. McDorman's office at the Mine Academy already had briefed some districts on how to test for what they referred to as the "50-50" standard on fire suppression lines. Later memos show four other MSHA districts in which training was begun or finished.
The academy had prepared and distributed a brochure describing ways to test water pressure inside mines, using a pressure gauge set on a fire valve fitting, and a formula for measuring the flow rate.
One inspector, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it also was possible to simply hold a bucket beneath a running sprinkler, time the flow, and extrapolate on whether the system delivered enough water.
In the case of the belt fire at Alma 1, Timmy P. Morgan, a rescue team member, said the sprinklers delivered "a trickle" of water. Mr. Morgan provided that statement to Tonya Mounts Hatfield, a Gilbert, W.Va., lawyer who is representing the widow of Mr. Hatfield.
Instead of flowing water, notes from the conversation with Mr. Morgan say, numerous spent fire extinguishers were found in the area along the belt drive where the fire was centered. Mr. Morgan died this year of a heart attack.
Unpowered fire alarm
In addition to questions about the adequacy of the belt line's sprinkler system and its inspection, doubts have arisen about whether miners underground were able to hear an alarm hooked into the mine's carbon monoxide detector line. The CO detectors are required as a super-sensitive fire alarm system, in part because the mine uses belt air to provide oxygen to miners in along the working face.
Records show that technicians at MSHA's certification center in Tridelphia, W.Va., opened a fire alarm May 25 that had been installed in the area of the blaze and discovered that an internal nickel cadmium battery was not hooked up.
"That would mean anyone in the area may not hear or see it," said Doug Coon, an official with Pyott-Boone Electronics, which manufactured the unit.
Mr. Coon said the monitor, which showed signs of smoke, apparently had been seized by MSHA immediately after the fire and retained for testing.
The alarm, called an 805-C remote alarm, used some low voltage power from the carbon monoxide monitor line, but required the battery to provide power for flashing lights and an audible alarm inside.
Had the alarm gone off, those hearing it would have been instructed to contact the mine office to determine whether there was danger.
Mr. Coon was unable to determine whether the battery had been disconnected deliberately or if it had not been hooked up. To prevent batteries from draining, the units are shipped with one wire disconnected and a note on the mounting bracket warning users to connect it.
According to Mr. Coon, tests on the carbon monoxide monitors showed they functioned.
MSHA, however, has raised questions about whether the records of the carbon monoxide monitors are complete, and investigators have said they are trying to determine whether someone in the mine attempted to delete computer files that would have shown an earlier rise in CO, an indication of fire, than previously reported.
Two MSHA officials with access to details of the ongoing investigation said a computer technician was called in to retrieve deleted files from a mine office computer that was linked to the underground monitors.
The agency took the mine's computer into possession as evidence March 2.
Prior inspections inside Alma 1 show at least one citation for problems with the carbon monoxide detector line. On Nov. 28, Mr. Justice cited the mine for a violation of the atmospheric monitoring standards.
"The CO sensor positioned at the tail piece of the No. 2 section along the No. 2 4-foot belt was not hooked into the system," he wrote. A follow-up notation, dated Dec. 12, does not indicate whether the sensor was later hooked up. It reads, simply: "Management has the required amount of air moving across the co-sensor at the tail of the No. 4 4-foot belt of the No. 2 section."
On a belt line, debris
In the days after the fire at Alma 1, a team of inspectors from District 4 and, later, the MSHA office in Madisonville, Ky., scoured sections of the mine unaffected by the fire. One MSHA inspector, according to a source with access to the investigation, described conditions there as "pre-1968," the year modern mine safety laws went on the books.
Inspectors filed reports showing widespread problems they believed could not have been overlooked easily, either by officials at the mine or by government inspectors.
One notable instance, according to records, was a conveyor belt line in another section of the mine that had accumulations of spilled coal and coal dust, both highly flammable, for roughly 5,000 feet. At points, the inspectors found, the spilled coal reached the level of the lower rollers on the belts, raising the possibility of friction contact that could ignite the waste. Of the belt's rollers, the inspection report shows 68 either missing or defective, something they viewed as a disaster in the waiting.
In March, both Mr. Paynter and Mr. Justice were informed they were being sent to the mine academy for further training, Mr. Paynter said. Since then, the men have remained stationed at the academy and both have been informed they are subject to an investigation by an internal review team based in Norton, Va.
"You know, they're going to have to blame someone," Mr. Paynter told the Post-Gazette in an interview 10 days ago.
Investigators, he said, told him they doubted he could have performed the number of inspections over the long distances cited in some of his earlier inspection reports, reports in which he most often reported finding no violations of safety standards.
"They said that, physically, I couldn't have traveled the distance I said I traveled at the time," he said. "On the belt lines, they said, 'You couldn't have done this in the time frame you gave us.' "
Mr. Justice had declined all interview requests. In previous reports, a fellow MSHA employee, Danny Woods, quoted him as saying he had wanted to write an order closing the belt line on which the fire occurred, but had been held back by a supervisor.
Mr. Justice later told investigators he had been misquoted by Mr. Woods.
"I only talked with him about generalities in the mining industry," Mr. Justice said last week.
But another acquaintance of Mr. Justice, Jack Spadaro, a former MSHA official who resigned in a widely publicized whistle-blowing case, said Mr. Justice had told him several times that he was held back from acting more strongly on safety violations.
"[Mr. Justice] is saying he wanted to do tough inspections," Mr. Spadaro said. In the case of at least one conveyor belt line at Alma 1, Mr. Spadaro said, Mr. Justice felt restrained.
"He wanted to close that down and he was told not to," Mr. Spadaro said.
Eight miners die in latest Chinese collery accident
BEIJING, Sept 3 (Reuters) - A gas explosion in a mine in southwest China killed eight workers and injured four, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Sunday.
It quoted authorities in Guizhou province as saying that the blast on Saturday occurred at an illegally run mine.
The provincial government had reissued an order for all illegal collieries to halt production immediately and close, Xinhua said.
China is home to the world's deadliest coal-mining industry.
Last year, 3,300 gas blasts, floods and other accidents killed nearly 6,000 miners, according to official figures.
Collieries are struggling to meet booming demand for coal, which fuels about 70 percent of the nation's energy consumption.
In the rush for profits, safety regulations are often ignored, production is pushed beyond limits and dangerous mines that have been shut down are reopened illegally.
Trapped underground miner frees himself
Townsville Bulletin - Northern Australia, Australia
September 3, 2006
A miner was trapped more than 400 metres underground after a rock fall at the George Fisher mine in Mount Isa yesterday afternoon.
The 36-year-old man was operating a loader in the zinc and lead mine when it is believed a section of the drive collapsed about 3.30pm.
The man was working alone eight levels underground at the time of the accident.
Police said the man managed to free himself before rescue crews arrived.
It is not known how long he had been trapped but police believe it was only a short period of time.
He was treated at the scene by paramedics before being taken to Mount Isa Base Hospital in a stable condition with a knee injury.
He was later released.
General manager of the metallurgical processing area of Xstrata Zinc Fred White said last night that an investigation had been launched into the incident.
He said it was too early to know what had caused the rock fall.
"It is very early days and all the information is still being assessed," Mr White said.
He said the mine had been evacuated and crews that were working at the time had been accounted for.
He said about 500 people were employed at the mine.
Mr White said the area had been barricaded off and mine officials were assessing factors last night that might have contributed to the accident.
"We are out there now speaking to each of the crews and assessing the condition in the area of the mine that they were operating in," Mr White said.
"We will know more once we have been able to assess the information we receive.
"We are obviously very concerned about the incident; we want our guys to be as safe as they can be."
He said emergency procedures had been immediately enacted after the rock fall and a mine rescue team had been dispatched.
Mr White said he had been at the mine for 10 years and he was not aware of any other similar incident involving a rock fall.
It was not known if crews would be going down the mine last night, he said.
Mr White said the wellbeing of the miner and his family was of paramount importance to the mine and support was being provided.
Xstrata announced early last month a major expansion of its zinc concentrate production and ore reserves at Mount Isa.
The move is expected to cost about $US125 million ($164 million) and create about 200 jobs during the expansion, and is set to lift production of zinc concentrate 60 per cent to eight million tonnes a year by 2008.
Four young men killed in explosion
Hindu - Chennai, India
September 3, 2006
Bangalore, India — Four persons were killed in an explosion at a temporary shed in which explosive substances were stored illegally, in Devanahalli police station limits in Bangalore Rural district.
The incident is said to have taken place late on Wednesday night or in the early hours of Thursday. It came to light around 8.30 a.m. on Thursday and the police reached the spot an hour later.
The police said the victims could be quarry workers and that the explosion could have occurred while they were preparing gelatine sticks in a crude manner using sulphur, phosphorous and other chemicals. Three bags containing chemicals have been seized from the spot.
The explosion occurred at the shed built on an agricultural land in Naraganahalli village on Chikkajala-Devanahalli Road, around 40 km from Bangalore.
The land belonged to Venkataramanappa, a quarry owner from neighbouring Kempathimmanahalli. He would have probably hired the workers to prepare gelatine sticks and to carry out explosions at quarries, the police said. "Since Venkataramanappa is at large, we are unable to get the details from him," the police said. On the basis of a voter identity card found at the scene of the blast, the police identified one of the deceased as Kupendran of Gudiatham in Tamil Nadu. The identity of the three others, suspected to be from Tamil Nadu, is not known. All of them were aged between 25 and 30, the police said. The local people said that the four had been staying at the new shed for the past one month. Two bodies were charred beyond recognition and the other two blown into pieces. Severed organs were strewn over a distance and the police had a tough time keeping away crows and stray dogs.
Reduced to rubble
The shed, built of hollow cement bricks and asbestos sheets, was reduced to rubble. Household articles, clothes and a bicycle were destroyed in the explosion. Experts from Forensic Science Laboratory, Bangalore, collected samples from the accident site for examination. The Devanahalli police have registered a case under the Explosives Act and a case of negligence leading to death against Venkataramanappa.
China coal mine accidents kill 23, injure nine
Shanghai Daily - Shanghai, China
September 4, 2006
TWENTY-THREE miners died and nine others were hospitalized in three coal mine accidents in China, local work safety sources said yesterday.
Ten miners were caught in a flood early Sunday morning in the Zhenxing Coal Mine in Daye City of central China's Hubei Province, said the Huangshi City Work Safety Bureau.
Three miners managed to escape by themselves and another one was rescued by emergency workers, said the bureau.
Bodies of the six dead have been found, said the bureau, adding that an investigation into the cause of the flooding was underway.
In neighboring Hunan Province, four more bodies in a coal mine gas explosion were found yesterday, increasing the death toll to nine in the blast, said the provincial work safety administration. The explosion occurred on Thursday morning at Lianyi Coal Mine in Lianyuan City when 20 miners were working underground.
Nine workers managed to escape and two others were rescued, said the administration.
Five of the 11 survivors are still receiving treatment in hospital, it said.
Initial investigations showed the mine owner brought in the miners to repair tunnels without measuring the gas density and their electric tools triggered the explosion. The owner of the mine has fled, officials said.
On Saturday, eight people died and four were injured in a coal mine gas explosion in southwest China's Guizhou Province.
The local administration of coal mine safety said the accident took place at an illegally run mine in Nayong County.
Missing Aracoma walls spread smoke, probe finds
The Charleston Gazette
September 3, 2006
MELVILLE, WV — On Jan. 19, the second shift was just getting started when the conveyor belts ground to a halt deep inside the Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine in Logan County.
Foreman Mike Plumley called to the surface to find out what was wrong. The main belt was burning, he learned. The mine had to be evacuated.
“We got to get out of here,” electrician Mike Shull remembers Plumley telling his crew. “There’s a fire.”
Shull, Plumley and the rest of the miners quickly piled into their mantrip, a motorized train that ferries underground workers. They started out of the mine in their “primary escapeway,” a separate tunnel that should have been clear of smoke.
But, the miners soon hit a wall of smoke, according to previously confidential investigation documents obtained by the Sunday Gazette-Mail. They had to find another way out.
The miners stopped, and climbed out of their mantrip. They scrambled to don emergency breathing devices, and stumbled through the smoke to a nearby airlock door. They hoped to find fresh air in an adjacent tunnel.
Investigators have learned that it was somewhere during this tunnel transfer that two Aracoma miners — Donald Bragg and Ellery Hatfield — got lost, the documents show.
Everyone else made it out alive. Rescuers didn’t find Bragg and Hatfield’s bodies until two days later.
Under federal law, the mine’s primary escape tunnel should have been isolated from the tunnel where the conveyor belt was burning. Block walls called stoppings should have sealed it off.
But Aracoma miners have told investigators that at least one — and maybe more — of these block walls were missing, according to sworn statements obtained by the Gazette-Mail.
Miner Billy Lee Mayhorn told investigators that at least one stopping near the tail-end of the mine’s main conveyor belt had been removed sometime before the fire.
“I know that there was a stopping there for a fact, because I was on the crew that built it,” Mayhorn said during a Feb. 10 interview at the Holiday Inn Express in Logan. “We were the ones that isolated that whole belt off, our crew did. So I know that it was put there, but between then and now, something happened to it.”
Federal and state investigators are trying to sort out who among the Aracoma Mine’s management knew about the missing stoppings, why the walls were taken out, and why no one did anything about it before the fatal fire, according to the sworn statements.
“We’ve got a whole stopping that’s not there,” Terry Farley, administrator of the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training, said during an interview with one of the Aracoma miners. “So unless I’m wrong, we’ve got a whole bunch of smoke that’s coming up ... and turning right through that area where that stopping used to be.”
Investigators from the state mine safety office are close to completing and making public their report on the Aracoma fire. Davitt McAteer, a mine safety adviser to Gov. Joe Manchin, has said that he would release his own Aracoma report sometime later this month.
Late last month, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration settled a lawsuit in which it alleged Aracoma’s parent company Massey Energy was stonewalling the federal government’s Aracoma probe. David Dye, acting MSHA chief, said the company agreed to provide his investigators with the documents they requested. No fines were involved in the settlement.
At the same time, federal prosecutors in Charleston are continuing a criminal investigation of the fire, started at MSHA’s request.
‘It got thick in a hurry’
At the Aracoma Mine, dozens of tunnels stretch for miles under the Logan County hills, east of Stollings in the shadow of Blair Mountain.
Most underground mines contain a series of long, parallel passages, called entries, intersected by smaller tunnels called crosscuts. Coal mine managers must carefully design and maintain such tunnels to avoid fires, explosions and other disasters.
Miners use cinder blocks and other construction materials to block off crosscuts from entries with walls called stoppings. In some tunnels, huge fans blow fresh air for miners to breathe and to sweep dangerous gases away. In others, conveyor belts haul coal to the surface. In still others, track is run for trains that carry miners in to work.
One tunnel must always be designated as the key escape route for miners. Under the law, it must be fully isolated from belt entries, to avoid having them fill with smoke if there’s a fire.
It was one such “primary escapeway” that Plumley’s crew tried to use to get out of the Aracoma Mine fire.
At first, the miners hit only light smoke. They put their shirts over their mouths and noses. It was probably a minor belt fire, the miners thought. They’d be back to work in a few hours.
“One of the guys actually made a joke — ‘I’ve got a pen and paper if anybody wants to leave a note,’” recalled shuttle car operator Pat Kisner.
The joking didn’t last long. The smoke thickened.
Steve Hensley, a continuous mining machine operator, was driving the mantrip during the escape.
“It got thick in a hurry, right up on us, you know,” Hensley told investigators.
So, Hensley stopped the mantrip. The miners got off, and headed for the airlock doors. Once they were through, Plumley did a headcount and came up two men short. Several miners went back through the doors and yelled for Bragg and Hatfield, but they weren’t there.
Aracoma miners couldn’t figure out for sure what happened to Bragg and Hatfield. Maybe they got turned around while trying to don their self-contained self-rescuers in the thick smoke, some said. Maybe they thought they knew a better way out, others said.
One thing was certain, Kisner said: “If your primary escapeway wasn’t blocked, we could have stayed on the mantrip and rode the mantrip all the way outside.”
Normally, the miners would have been shocked to find smoke in their primary escape route.
But many of the Aracoma miners knew there was a stopping wall missing along the mine’s main conveyor belt.
“There was no stopping there,” testified Brandon Conley, a utility worker who has since left the mine.
Roof bolter Jonah Rose testified that miners would frequently tear out stoppings to make shorter routes between main entry tunnels when they needed to move supplies around in the Aracoma Mine.
Pat Callaway, a mine production foreman, said workers also did this to create shortcuts to far-off areas for safety checks.
“And it was a daily thing, too,” Callaway told investigators. “You’d knock the stopping, and go through and build it back and do your work.
Before they started their escape, Plumley told his crew that they might hit smoke. He must have known about the missing stoppings, the miners told investigators.
“I like to think he was smart enough to think of that,” Billy Lee Mayhorn said.
Investigators don’t know what Plumley was thinking. When government officials tried to interview him on Feb. 24, Plumley declined to answer any questions.
‘Far from adequate’
Three months before the Aracoma fire, MSHA veteran Minness Justice was assigned to inspect the mine.
The 14-year MSHA employee told investigators he had become very concerned about growing safety problems.
Mine ventilation was a mess, Justice said he had warned the company. Explosive coal dust wasn’t being cleaned up. The mine’s maps showed air flowing in a different direction than it moved underground.
“Basically, the overall picture of the ventilation at the mine was far from adequate,” Justice told investigators on March 30.
Hours before the Jan. 19 fire, MSHA ventilation experts had met with Massey officials to discuss Justice’s concerns, Rich Kline, an MSHA assistant district manager, said in a sworn statement. That same day, MSHA ventilation expert Bill Ross was assigned to survey the mine and sort out the problems, another MSHA manager, Luther Mars, told the investigation team.
Ross never had a chance to get started.
The missing logs
When Justice arrived at the Aracoma Mine the night of the fire, he went straight for the mine’s carbon monoxide monitors. Justice wanted to know where the fire was, when it had started, and how serious it was.
In the mine office, Justice found a computer printout. It showed gas alarms at 9:30 that morning, and again at 2:30 that afternoon — many hours before anyone ordered a mine evacuation or reported a fire to regulators.
Justice took the printouts, and the alarm logbook. Later, MSHA district manager Jesse Cole and supervisor Ray Saunders took the logbook from Justice. Then, it disappeared, according to interview transcripts.
“I did see the logbook laying on a table on a bench downstairs [in the mine office] 20 or 30 hours later, but I assumed that it was someone who laid it there nearby, and I didn’t retrieve it,” Justice told investigators.
Still later, MSHA investigators brought in Massey’s computer contractor, Pyott-Boone Electronics, to retrieve the original log files from the mine’s computer.
“I went to the log files to retrieve the information, and it wasn’t there,” testified Joey Davis, a technician with the firm.
‘Your map isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on’
By the morning of Jan. 20, mine rescue crews from around the region had poured into Logan County to help search for Bragg and Hatfield.
Rescuers were faced with a basic and difficult problem: They didn’t have an accurate map of the mine.
“We found it difficult to travel because of the maps that we were given,” said Ron Hixson, an MSHA ventilation expert and member of the agency’s rescue team.
Michael Emery, a rescue team member with Alliance Coal’s Illinois operations, explained that, “Most of the ventilation controls were not correct that were on the map. The ones that were marked, a lot of them were out, and some that were out there weren’t on the map at all.”
Mars, the MSHA assistant district manager, recalled a rescuer from another Massey mine telling company official Drexel Short, “Believe it or not, buddy, your map isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.”
“And Drexel asked him, ‘So just what company do you work for?’ He said, ‘I’m one of yours,’ and [Drexel] shut up,” Mars said.
Staff writer Ken Ward Jr.’s continued coverage of mine safety issues is being supported by a fellowship from the Alicia Patterson Foundation. To contact Ward, use e-mail or call 304-348-1702.
My new e-mail address is: hmeadows@...
Kentucky pulls old air packs from inspectors
© 2006 The Associated Press
September 5, 2006
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Some of Kentucky's mine inspectors are not equipped with the emergency air packs needed to legally enter underground mines, though state officials won't say how that will affect coal mine inspections.
State mine safety officials said Tuesday they have pulled air packs manufactured before 2004 from inspectors and analysts because those versions do not have temperature indicators that alert users to heat damage.
While some inspectors already have upgraded air packs, the Office of Mine Safety and Licensing is waiting for more to arrive _ meaning some inspectors without the upgraded air packs can't go underground.
Mine Safety and Licensing spokesman Chuck Wolfe wouldn't say how many inspectors are affected or whether the agency will have to cut back on underground inspections in the meantime.
Also Tuesday, Gov. Ernie Fletcher ordered coal companies to remove from service any CSE SR-100 air pack units that have been exposed to extreme heat or a "questionable history of storage." The bulletin didn't address inspectors.
The CSE Corp.-produced model is the same used by miners in the Sago and Darby disasters, as well as Kentucky's inspectors. The Sago explosion in January left 12 West Virginia miners dead while the Darby blast in May killed five in eastern Kentucky.
Some industry observers said they are concerned that the fewer air packs means fewer inspections.
"It allows coal operators to basically do as they please, and that's not a good thing," said Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville.
Until additional devices arrive, inspectors will concentrate on surface coal mines, said Rep. Robin Webb, a Democrat from Grayson who pushed for mine safety legislation that passed the General Assembly earlier this year.
"They anticipate this being a very temporary situation," she said. "It should be remedied soon."
Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, said mine operators would not take advantage of decreased enforcement.
Mine breathing devices subject of safety alert
Louisville Courier-Journal - Louisville,KY,USA
September 5, 2006
Kentucky's coal companies are being alerted that breathing devices that miners use to escape smoky or dusty mines may be damaged by exposure to extreme heat or other improper storage.
Gov. Ernie Fletcher yesterday ordered the release of a safety bulletin warning about potential problems with self-contained self-rescuer units. The warnings follow tests by West Virginia that found air packs exposed to extreme heat, such as that generated in a car on a warm day, failed to perform properly.
The Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing's bulletin requires companies to remove from service any devices that have a questionable history of storage or have been subjected to extreme high temperatures. The devices are CSE SR-100 units manufactured before 2004.
"Miners' lives are on the line each time they begin a shift, and we are taking steps toward ensuring that SCSR units are in proper working order," Fletcher said in a statement.
Applauding Kentucky once more for their pro-active approach to worker safety.
Could this be just one of many related news items yet to come? This could be huge.
Is there any indication that MSHA will follow up with a similar alert?
I'd really like to hear the scuttlebutt from MSHA staffers, mine management, state agencies or from the manufacturers of these devices. I know you're listening.
--- In MineRescue@yahoogroups.com, "USMRA" <usmra@...> wrote:
> Mine breathing devices subject of safety alert
> Louisville Courier-Journal - Louisville,KY,USA
> September 5, 2006
> Kentucky's coal companies are being alerted that breathing devices that miners use to escape smoky or dusty mines may be damaged by exposure to extreme heat or other improper storage.
> Gov. Ernie Fletcher yesterday ordered the release of a safety bulletin warning about potential problems with self-contained self-rescuer units. The warnings follow tests by West Virginia that found air packs exposed to extreme heat, such as that generated in a car on a warm day, failed to perform properly.
> The Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing's bulletin requires companies to remove from service any devices that have a questionable history of storage or have been subjected to extreme high temperatures. The devices are CSE SR-100 units manufactured before 2004.
> "Miners' lives are on the line each time they begin a shift, and we are taking steps toward ensuring that SCSR units are in proper working order," Fletcher said in a statement.
Interesting and curious article. I'm hoping it works to the advantage of all, but in reality, here's how it will shake out.
- Kentucky declares a problem
- WV will follow suit
- lllinois will show concern
- VA will keep it close to the womb
- Penna. will do absolutely nothing. Sorry PA miners.
I said I would have something to say after retirement. This is my beginning.
--- In MineRescue@yahoogroups.com, "Rob McGee" <usmra@...> wrote:
> Applauding Kentucky once more for their pro-active approach to worker
> Could this be just one of many related news items yet to come? This
> could be huge.
> Is there any indication that MSHA will follow up with a similar alert?
> I'd really like to hear the scuttlebutt from MSHA staffers, mine
> management, state agencies or from the manufacturers of these devices.
> I know you're listening.
> --- In MineRescue@yahoogroups.com, "USMRA" usmra@ wrote:
> > Mine breathing devices subject of safety alert
> > Louisville Courier-Journal - Louisville,KY,USA
> > September 5, 2006
> > Kentucky's coal companies are being alerted that breathing devices
> that miners use to escape smoky or dusty mines may be damaged by
> exposure to extreme heat or other improper storage.
> > Gov. Ernie Fletcher yesterday ordered the release of a safety bulletin
> warning about potential problems with self-contained self-rescuer units.
> The warnings follow tests by West Virginia that found air packs exposed
> to extreme heat, such as that generated in a car on a warm day, failed
> to perform properly.
> > The Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing's bulletin requires
> companies to remove from service any devices that have a questionable
> history of storage or have been subjected to extreme high temperatures.
> The devices are CSE SR-100 units manufactured before 2004.
> > "Miners' lives are on the line each time they begin a shift, and we
> are taking steps toward ensuring that SCSR units are in proper working
> order," Fletcher said in a statement.
I've recently been privy to yet another solution to the SCSR problem:
This one from the Commonwealth of PA, Bureau of Mine Safety, Joseph Sbaffoni, Director:
The author is Dennis Walker, Bituminous Mine Safety Division Chief:
Recent tests conducted by the West Virginia Office of Miners Health Safety and Training on CSE SR-100 Self Contained Self Rescuers (SCSR's) have revealed potential problems that may be related to excessive heat generated inside parked vehicles. (MSHA is presently conducting random tests on inspector units from various MSHA Districts, and to date, no units have been identified as non-functional.)
To determine if a problem exists with our units, the Bureau has arranged to have CSE and MSHA Tech Support test a random sample of our units. We are testing two units from each work group that may have been exposed to extreme heat, or other physical conditions that may have affected the units. After the testing process, the units can no longer be used and must be replaced. We were able to secure newly manufactured units, with heat indicators, to replace the units to be tested.
The Bureau is also working with CSE, which is developing the capability to retrofit existing units, which will include the addition of a temperature indicator. MSHA is also looking at ways to protect units that are exposed to extreme temperatures and the Bureau is in the loop concerning this project.
In the interim, all SCSR's must be stored and maintained in areas where they are not susceptible to extreme temperatures. As previously instructed, SCSR's should not be stored in vehicles during extremely hot, or cold weather.
Additional information will be provided as we receive it. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.
Dozens feared dead in mine blast
Gulf News - Dubai,United Arab Emirates
September 6, 2006
Dhanbad, India: More than 50 miners are feared to have been killed after an explosion in a coal mine on Wednesday night.
At least 54 people were in the mine when the roof collapsed after the blast in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand.
Partha Bhattacharya, chairman of Bharat Coking Coal said: "This is an unprecedented situation and the chances of their survival are zero."
Stickler renominated to head US mine safety agency
WASHINGTON, Sept 6 (Reuters) - Although the U.S. Senate rejected his choice last month, President George Bush has renominated Richard Stickler, a former Pennsylvania mining official, to head the federal government's mine safety agency.
Senator Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat, originally put a hold on Stickler's nomination for three months, saying the White House's candidate held the industry's interests above miners' safety. When Congress adjourned for its August recess, the nomination was automatically rejected.
Byrd said in a statement he hopes the Senate will turn down the nomination again.
Stickler was the director of Pennsylvania's Bureau of Deep Mine Safety for six years and also worked for Massey Energy (MEE.N: Quote, Profile, Research) and Bethlehem Steel Company. He currently has a six-month contract to work as an advisor to the Department of Labor, which oversees the Mine Safety and Health Agency.
The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee does not plan on holding any more hearings on the nomination, and a committee spokesman did not know when it would vote on Stickler.
"It's appalling that the president would renominate Richard Stickler for this critical mine safety position in the face of intense opposition from miners and their families," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat who also opposed the nomination originally.
Mine safety awaits
Patriot-News - Harrisburg, PA, USA
Thursday, September 07, 2006
It's not exactly a compliment when Congress is the hare and you're the tortoise, but that pretty much sums up the state Legislature when it comes to updating Pennsylvania's mine safety laws.
Responding with unusual speed to 12 deaths during a January accident in West Virginia's Sago mine, Congress in June passed and President Bush signed the first changes in federal regulations governing mine operators since 1977. If that seems like a woefully long time, consider that Pennsylvania has not up dated its laws since 1962.
The state is so far behind that there isn't even any mention of air packs -- known in the industry as self-contained self- rescuers, or SCSRs -- which were at the heart of criticism in the West Virginia accident.
Two bills addressing air packs and aspects of the Quecreek accident in Somerset County four years ago were introduced in February by state Sen. Richard Kasunic, D-Fayette. Although the federal law governs Pennsylvania, Kasunic and the Rendell administration want some provisions in a new law specific to the state.
The bills have languished in the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, as mine operators and unions representing miners continue to disagree. With a short fall session in an election year, the chances for action before the end of 2006 are dwindling.
The committee chair, Sen. Mary Jo White, R-Venango, observed to The Associated Press: "I don't know how the Legislature is going to be able to broker a compromise when the [Department of Environmental Protection] hasn't been able to do it in three years."
Well, maybe the Legislature, having heard the debate and weighing all the input, will have to show some leadership. Or, as eloquently stated by Joseph Sbaffoni, director of the state Bureau of Mine Safety: "There's going to come a time when [policymakers] need to step up and take care of business."
Fire traps 19 in Russian gold mine
September 7, 2006
By Aleksandras Budrys
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Fire broke out on Thursday at a gold mine in Russia's Eastern Siberia owned by London-listed Highland Gold Mining, trapping at least 19 workers underground, emergency officials said.
An Emergency ministry spokeswoman said 48 workers had been in the mine in the remote Chita region, located 5,000 km (3,100 miles) east of Moscow on the Chinese border, when the fire erupted at a depth of 85 to 135 meters (255 to 405 ft).
Rescue workers safely evacuated 29 of them, she said.
In a conflicting report, Interfax news agency quoted officials at the regional emergencies center as saying that 64 miners had been in the pit and 33 of them were still trapped.
Highland Gold, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, confirmed that the fire had broken out in the central shaft of its Darasun mining complex.
"The situation is complex and we are monitoring it every 15 minutes," a Highland Gold official said.
Chita's regional authorities said a severe fire broke out at 2:15 pm local time (0415 GMT) as a result of welding work that violated safety rules. The fire was still burning.
Interfax quoted local officials saying rescuers were trying to bring the trapped miners to the surface through a horizontal tunnel to a second vertical shaft 5 km (3 miles) away from the scene of the blaze.
The Darasun mine, the smaller of Highland Gold's two main gold projects in Russia, produced 11,761 ounces of gold in the first half of this year.
Highland Gold has forecast total gold output this year of 180,000-185,000 ounces. The company is one-fifth owned by Canada's Barrick Gold, the world's largest gold miner.
Several killed in Indian mine collapse - scores remain trapped
Independent Online - Cape Town, South Africa
September 7, 2006
Ranchi, India - Several dead workers were pulled from a coal mine collapse in eastern India and there is "little hope" for the rest of more than 50 miners trapped underground, officials said on Thursday.
Rescuers had not made contact with the missing and it was not immediately clear how many dead had been found at the Bhatdih colliery after a suspected gas explosion there late on Wednesday, they said.
"The rescue teams have found some of the bodies and the operation is still on," said Bila Rajesh, deputy commissioner of the district where the accident occurred late on Wednesday.
"We are still hopeful, but hopes (for their survival) are very little now."
The chief of state-run Bharat Coking Coal, which operates the mine west of the Jharia coalfields in mineral-rich Jharkand state, said he had no information about the condition of the miners.
"We can't say anything about the state of the trapped miners," managing director Partho Bhattacharya told AFP by telephone.
"We can just pray for their safety."
Another company official in charge of the mine where the accident occurred said that rescue teams were trying two approaches to the underground area.
"The rescue operation is going from two different directions and a dozen rescue units have been pressed into service," said SB Chakravorty, estimating that at least 50 people were trapped at the Bhatdih Colliery.
"With passing of time things will become difficult for them."
Local superintendent of police Baljit Singh said as many as 54 miners were trapped.
An official at a control room set up at the coal company's headquarters said that some of the miners might be trapped as far down as 800m and that rescue workers had reached three-fourths of the way there.
The explosion late on Wednesday ignited a fire which had been extinguished but rescuers had not yet managed to reach the trapped miners or make contact with them since the accident occurred, he added.
Television cameras showed hundreds of locals, including relatives and fellow mine workers, gathered around the site of the accident.
Managing director Bhattacharya told an Indian news channel that a rescue attempt was initially delayed because of the need to ensure the safety of the rescue team.
"After the explosion the mine was still blocked so naturally we would not like to put our rescue teams in without ventilation," he said on Times Now television.
"The mine was filled with carbon monoxide and methane gas, which was a danger for the rescue operation but now ventilation has been enhanced."
The explosion in the state's Dhanbad district could have been caused by leaking gas, police officer VD Ram told AFP from the provincial capital Ranchi.
"Fifty seven people were working in the mine shaft when the explosion took place. Four people came out just before the explosion. So we fear 53 people are trapped inside," Ram said.
"We don't know what exactly caused the explosion and the fire. Maybe it was due to leakage of gas," he added.
The Dhanbad area, sometimes billed as India's "coal capital", has a history of fatal mining accidents, most recently when 31 workers died after a mine filled with water in 2004.
The worst tragedy occurred in 1975, when 375 miners drowned in a mine.
Mining is the country's most dangerous and "accident-prone" occupation judging by its fatal accident rate, according to India's National Institute of Occupational Health.
Fierce heat, smoke traps miners
NEWS.com.au - Australia
September 08, 2006
RESCUERS in Siberia battled fierce heat and smoke to try and reach more than 30 miners trapped in a burning gold mine, Russian news agencies reported.
The miners were still missing more than 13 hours after fire broke out underground at the British-owned coal mine in the Chita region, which borders China and Mongolia, Russian news agencies quoted officials as saying.
The rescue operation is “extremely complicated,” a spokeswoman for the Chita regional governor told ITAR-TASS.
“Thick smoke and high temperatures are observed in the shaft, which is complicating rescue work,” ITAR-TASS also quoted the administration of Chita as saying.
Fire broke out at 2.15am (AEST) at a depth of 85-130m in the gold mine in Vershino-Darasunsky, northeast of the regional capital Chita, the emergency situations ministry said.
Of the 64 miners present at the time, 31 were soon rescued.
MSHA selection brings criticism
Thursday, September 07, 2006By Steve Twedt, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd yesterday sharply criticized the Bush administration for renominating Richard Stickler to head the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.
"The White House apparently has greater concern for politics than for mine safety," said Mr. Byrd in a statement.
Mr. Stickler, the former director of Pennsylvania's Bureau of Deep Mine Safety, originally was nominated a year ago to head the federal agency charged with enforcing mine safety regulations. The agency has been operating under the direction of Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor David G. Dye.
On Aug. 4, Mr. Byrd and fellow Democrat Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts blocked Mr. Stickler's nomination, saying he did not have the confidence of miners that he would be a strong safety advocate. The White House resubmitted his name late Tuesday.
Cecil E. Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, said yesterday that by renominating Mr. Stickler, "President Bush has ignored the will of the U.S. Senate and added insult to injury to coal miners and their families."
Wilcher to leave cabinet position
Leads key state regulatory agency
By Ryan Alessi
HERALD-LEADER FRANKFORT BUREAU
FRANKFORT (9/8) - LaJuana Wilcher, the state's Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet secretary and one of the last original members of Gov. Ernie Fletcher's cabinet, announced that she's leaving the helm of one of the state's largest and most diverse agencies on Sept. 30.
Wilcher, an attorney and former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official, will return to the Bowling Green area to serve as a partner with her former law firm, teach law school and run her farm in Alvaton, where she plans to breed horses and donkeys to get rare spotted mules.
Wilcher, whom Fletcher had to persuade to join the administration in 2003, said she initially committed to serving just two years but stayed an extra nine months.
"The truth is, I think this cabinet is in good shape. I think the administration is in good shape," Wilcher said in an interview yesterday.
Fletcher named Teresa Hill -- who most recently served as a Public Service Commission member -- as Wilcher's replacement. Hill also has worked in Fletcher's administration as head of the governor's boards and commissions appointment office and as chief attorney for the Commerce Cabinet under that agency's former secretary Jim Host.
Fletcher created the Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet during his government reorganization in January 2004 by combining the old Natural Resources, Public Protection and Labor cabinets.
It serves as Kentucky's foremost regulatory agency. Its functions include watching over the insurance, mining, equine, utilities and construction industries.
During her tenure, Wilcher has had to handle fallout from the collapse of AIK Comp -- one of the state's largest providers of insurance for injured workers -- as well as several deadly mine accidents.
Most recently, the Office of Mine Safety played a role in investigating the explosion in a Harlan County mine in May that killed five men -- the state's deadliest mine accident in 16 years.
Wilcher has personally been involved with successful pushes for mine safety legislation, which she called "the best in the country," as well as new safety regulations for home builders, the application of drug testing for racehorses and a $15 million incentive fund for Kentucky horse breeding.
Efforts to create an insurance fund for jockeys and to get additional pay for mine inspectors, so far, have fallen short. Wilcher said she hopes both are accomplished soon.
She said that, by far, the biggest challenge early on was cleaning house in the agency that regulated horse racing. Wilcher said that is an ongoing process.
Overall, Wilcher said, she's proud of the work she and other cabinet secretaries did, even though it was overshadowed by the investigation into the Fletcher administration's personnel practices.
"It's definitely been a distraction, yet I think in the final analysis, we have kept going forward," she said.
In just over 21/2 years, Fletcher has seen nearly his entire original cabinet turn over. The only two who remain in their initial posts are Adjutant General Donald Storm, who oversees the National Guard, and Economic Development Cabinet Secretary Gene Strong, who has served in that position since former Gov. Brereton Jones' administration in the early 1990s.
Also, Robbie Rudolph, who is now Fletcher's running mate in 2007, moved from being Finance Cabinet Secretary to Fletcher's secretary of the executive cabinet.
In the last year, Fletcher has had to name replacements to eight of the nine major cabinets. In each case, he picked someone from within the administration.
"That number of appointments in such a short period of time tells you a lot about the Fletcher administration," said Michael Baranowski, associate professor of political science at Northern Kentucky University. "To me, it paints the picture of an administration in crisis."
Indian mine collapse death toll rises to 44
Radio Australia - Australia
September 8, 2006
The bodies of 44 miners have been found after a coal mine collapse in eastern India.
Authorities say there is now no hope of finding 10 other workers alive.
The miners became trapped on Wednesday night after an explosion in a deep shaft in the Jharia coalfield, 170 kilometres from the state capital Ranchi.
Partho Bhattacharya, managing director of state-run mine owners Bharat Coking Coal Ltd (BCCL), said: "Our teams have counted 44 bodies lying deep in the mine shaft.
"Of these, 29 have been brought up. The work is proceeding at a fast pace and we hope to complete it by the end of today."
Four miners who had been working higher up the shaft at the Bhatdih colliery were rescued on Wednesday night, with two suffering severe burns.
Russian mine fire death toll rises to 21
Washington Post - United States
By Guy Faulconbridge
Saturday, September 9, 2006; 1:51 PM
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian rescuers on Saturday found five more dead men at a
burning gold mine in Siberia, bringing the death toll to 21, as hopes faded for
four others who have been trapped underground for more than two days.
Rescuers, struggling against thick smoke and pockets of fire, have so far been
unable to bring the bodies of the five miners to the surface, an Emergencies
Ministry official said.
"There is information about the bodies of five other miners being found below
the surface," an official at the Emergencies Ministry in Chita, about 6,000 km
(3,750 miles) east of Moscow told Reuters.
Earlier in the day, rescuers had found four more dead miners.
As relatives and emergency workers started the grim job of identifying dead
miners, rescuers brought five miners to the surface alive and three others
climbed out on their own.
Rescuers found the five miners alive at a depth of 435 meters (1,427 feet) and
told of the men trapped below. About 300 emergency workers are taking part in
search efforts but the smoke is hindering them.
The fire broke out on Thursday after welding work deep in the central shaft of
the Darasun mine, in the remote Chita region of Eastern Siberia near the Chinese
The mine is owned by London-listed Highland Gold Mining, whose shares tumbled
after the fire.
Distraught relatives were shown on Russia's NTV television weeping as bodies,
wrapped in white sheets, were carried to ambulances by grim-faced rescuers.
Smoke was shown billowing from entrances to the mine.
One miner was shown wrapped in a blanket walking to an ambulance after climbing
to the surface, while others -- with mud on their faces and soiled from
scrambling along miles of tunnels -- were shown drinking tea.
"At a juncture in the tunnels we felt fresh air wafting along and ... we decided
to slowly move along the tunnel and made our way out," one miner said on Rossiya
Wives of miners trapped below tearfully pleaded for the names of those who had
got to the surface.
When the fire broke out, the miners were carrying breathing devices designed to
last for several hours. Air was being pumped into the shaft to improve the
chances of survival.
Russia's state environmental watchdog said it would be urgently investigating
alleged safety violations by Highland Gold at Darasun and other mines it
That investigation was later broadened to cover some mines operated by Polyus
Gold -- Russia's biggest gold miner -- and several coal mining companies.
Highland Gold shares plunged 11 percent on Friday on the London Stock Exchange
to 1.53 pounds, following losses of 4.5 percent the day before.
The Darasun mine is the smaller of Highland Gold's two operational gold mines in
Russia. The complex produced 11,761 ounces of gold in the first half of this
year, around 13 percent of the company's total production.
Highland Gold is one-fifth owned by Canada's Barrick Gold, the world's largest
gold miner. Fleming Family & Partners and its affiliates hold 19.5 percent and
the company's Anglo-Russian management team a further 12.5 percent.
Tucked in the desolate foothills of Chita, the Darasun mine is Russia's oldest
hard-rock gold deposit with proven reserves of 31 metric tons and estimated
resources of 96 metric tons.
Stiff fines proposed for large coal mine operators
Saturday, September 09, 2006By Steve Twedt, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Large coal mine operators who violate safety regulations -- and repeat offenders in particular -- will face much stiffer fines under proposed federal rules for assessing civil penalties.
The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration yesterday released its proposed rule for civil penalty assessments and announced six hearings for public comment, including an Oct. 19 hearing at the Pittsburgh Airport Marriott.
The 21-page listing in the Federal Register sets out a new structure for assessing fines, increases penalty points and reduces the discount mine operators currently receive for quickly correcting a problem.
MSHA officials estimate that, under the proposed rate structure, the average penalty assessment for all mines would increase from $213 to $587, and that total assessments will increase from $24.9 million to $68.5 million.
In the proposal, MSHA officials say current penalty assessments "are often too low to be an effective deterrent for noncompliance at some of the largest operations."
In a statement yesterday, Department of Labor Acting Assistant Secretary David G. Dye, who heads MSHA, said "we anticipate that these stronger penalties will induce mine operators to improve their safety and health programs."
The proposal drew criticism from both industry and labor groups, though for opposite reasons.
"It seems once again MSHA believes, as we do not, that safety is a function of fines. In proposing to raise them substantially, the agency mistakenly believes that this will bring a corresponding improvement in safety," said Luke Popovich, spokesman for the National Mining Association.
"Fundamentally, we disagree. No fine even approximates the cost of the down time to a company, let alone the human toll it suffers, from a serious mine accident."
Instead, Mr. Popovich suggested that improved safety would come from better technology, better training and "a more rational allocation of inspection resources to high-risk areas."
Meanwhile, the United Mine Workers of America officials say they believe the proposed rule falls short.
"The new fine schedule continues to be too modest to have the maximum deterrent effect that Congress intended," said Judy Rivlin, attorney for UMWA.
She further noted that setting fines is only one part of enforcement, that currently fines are too often reduced or not even collected.
Longtime mine safety advocate Tony Oppegard, an attorney representing some families of the five miners killed at the Kentucky Darby Mine in May, agrees.
"We have two mine operators in eastern Kentucky that owe $1 million in fines, and they haven't paid them in years, but they continued to get new mine licenses," he said.
"There should be some type of provision that operators who have not paid fines are barred from getting new permits."
Mr. Oppegard also questioned the provision that gives mine operators a 10 percent reduction on fines if they fix the problem promptly. Currently, the reduction is 30 percent.
"I don't understand the rationale for that. It should be eliminated entirely," he said.
One major change in the proposed rule is the elimination of single penalty assessments for minor offenses, which now carry a $60 fine.
Eliminating the single penalty "will cause mine operators to focus their attention on preventing all hazardous conditions before they occur and promptly correct those violations that do occur," according to the proposal.
The proposal also institutes fines of $5,000 to $60,000 if mine operators fail to notify officials of an incident within the required 15 minutes.
The proposal ratchets up penalties for the most flagrant violations and the number of penalty points assessed would rise dramatically, with each penalty point increasing the fine.
For example, if investigators conclude that a mine operator should have anticipated an incident, the new proposal would assess 50 penalty points instead of 10. If negligence is involved, the number of penalty points jumps from 25 to 50.
Similarly, a mine operator who violates the same safety standard 10 times in a 15-month period would be assessed 10 penalty points.
A MSHA analysis from Jan. 1, 2005 through March 2006, showed that 698 of the 10,227 mines cited for violations had six violations of the same standard, and 99 of 698 had more than 20 violations of same standard during the 15 months.
If an operator has 60 or fewer penalty points, the fine would increase $112. But at 100 penalty points, the amount is $2,748 and it can go up to $60,000 for 140 or more penalty points.
Under the federal statute, MSHA can reduce a fine if it is deemed so large that it could put the mine operator out of business.
In June, President Bush signed the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response, or MINER, Act that increased maximum fines from $60,000 to $220,000. The proposed rule announced yesterday would set criteria that would determine fine amounts, up to the maximum.
Passage of the MINER Act came on the heels of 33 deaths in U.S. coal mines this year, including 12 miners at West Virginia's Sago Mine in January and five miners at the Kentucky Darby Mine in May. An additional four miners have died since then.
Leading up to the Oct. 19 Pittsburgh meeting, public hearings are scheduled for Sept. 26 at MSHA headquarters in Arlington, Va.; Sept. 28 in North Birmingham, Ala.; Oct. 4 in Salt Lake City; Oct. 6 in St. Louis; and Oct. 17 in Charleston, W.Va.
The proposed civil penalty assessment rule can be viewed on the MSHA Web site, www.msha.gov.
Russia mine toll reaches 25 as last bodies found
Scotsman - United Kingdom
September 10, 2006
MOSCOW (Reuters) - The final death toll from a fire at a remote Russian gold mine reached 25 on Sunday as rescuers found the bodies of four men, the last of the miners trapped deep underground three days earlier.
Relatives had been keeping vigil on the surface hoping the four might be brought out alive after eight survivors emerged from the pit on Saturday.
All 33 men trapped when the fire broke out in the mine's main shaft on Thursday have now been accounted for, Interfax news agency said, quoting the local administration in the Chita region of Eastern Siberia.
A rescue operation involving 300 people and headed at the scene by Russian Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu was being wound down. The first funerals, for 14 miners, were to take place on Monday in the region, near the Chinese border.
Russia's state environmental watchdog has announced an urgent safety investigation into the Darasun mine, owned by London-listed Highland Gold Mining, and also into some mines operated by rival gold mining firm Polyus Gold
Rescuers trying to reach the miners had to struggle against thick smoke and high temperatures from a fire that they managed to localise but not extinguish.
On Saturday, three miners walked out of the mine unaided. One of the three said they escaped after they felt fresh air in a tunnel and moved towards its source.
They directed rescuers to a second group of five miners who were found alive at a depth of 435 metres (1,427 feet).
Russian television showed a weeping woman throwing herself at a miner as he stepped out of a lift cage that brought him out of the mine. But after that rescuers found only bodies.
The fire broke out during welding work deep in the central shaft of the mine, one of the oldest in Russia.
Highland Gold shares plunged 11 percent on Friday, following losses of 4.5 percent the day before.
The Darasun mine is the smaller of Highland Gold's two operational gold mines in Russia. The complex produced 11,761 ounces of gold in the first half of this year, around 13 percent of the company's total production.
Highland Gold is one-fifth owned by Canada's Barrick Gold, the world's largest gold miner. Fleming Family & Partners and its affiliates hold 19.5 percent and the company's Anglo-Russian management team a further 12.5 percent.
Tucked in the desolate foothills of Chita, the Darasun mine is Russia's oldest hard-rock gold deposit with proven reserves of 31 tonnes and estimated resources of 96 tonnes.
Polyus Gold, Russia's biggest gold miner, said there was "nothing extraordinary" in the investigation into some of its mines by the environmental watchdog.
"We are constantly working with regulatory bodies, which routinely check the condition of our enterprises," Polyus Investor Relations Director Denis Davydov said.
Mexico's Mine Crisis: 'We want our loved ones'
Sunday, September 10, 2006
By Jerome L. Sherman
SAN JUAN DE SABINAS, Mexico -- Six months after this country's worst coal mining accident in a generation, Elvira Martinez is still waiting for her husband to come home.
She last saw him Feb. 18 as he prepared for an overnight shift at the Pasta de Conchos mine in a barren desert plain about 80 miles south of the Texas border. A few hours into the shift, a methane explosion triggered rock falls, trapping 65 workers. One body has been recovered.
Now, Elvira waits.
Almost every day, she and a group of wives and other relatives sit at the mine's entrance. A blue tarpaulin protects them from the sun; a rattling fan provides token relief from summer temperatures that regularly top 100 degrees. Nearby, a security gate is draped with dozens of white sheets, each bearing a message for the mine owner and for the world.
"We want our loved ones. Now!"
For months, the story of the widows of Pasta de Conchos captivated Mexico. Television crews camped out near the mine during the accident's aftermath, beaming shots of anguished family members to all corners of the country. Human rights organizations and a Catholic bishop weighed in on the progress of the recovery effort and the feud among relatives, the federal government and Grupo Mexico, one of the world's largest mining companies.
The accident also contributed to months of labor strife that led to strikes at the Grupo Mexico's huge copper mines and Mexico's largest steel mill.
Grupo Mexico officials have promised to recover each body trapped in Pasta de Conchos. They are pouring millions of dollars into a cleanup operation that has cleared 10,000 tons of rock from the 1.4-mile-long mine and could last months, if not years. They have organized an extensive assistance program, with scholarships for children of the miners and triple salaries for the widows.
Soon after the accident, the company also offered each widow a lump sum of $75,000, an enormous amount in a region where miner wages of $1 an hour are typical.
But many relatives still doubt the company's sincerity, and they see a continued presence at the mine as their only leverage.
"We think they want us to go away," said Guillermo Iglesias, son of a deceased miner and a spokesman for the families. "We want the bodies first."
The makeshift camp is a breeding ground for rumors. Some relatives suspect that Grupo Mexico is preparing to seal the mine, while others see coal, not deceased miners, as the primary focus of the recovery effort. Company officials say none of that is true.
The number of relatives who regularly show up at the mine has dwindled. On a recent afternoon, a dozen people -- sons, aunts, fathers, widows and children -- sat on plastic chairs and snacked on soft tacos.
Elvira Martinez is the only one of the widows who has turned down the company's $75,000 offer. She sees it as a buyout, an excuse to keep her away from her husband.
Almost everything in Elvira's life is on hold. She has left her job. She has stopped all work on her family's new house, although she, her husband and their three children were planning to move there at the end of February, a week after the accident.
A slight woman with brown skin and shoulder-length hair, Elvira, 33, approaches each day with poise and focus concealing her grief. Her children sometimes complain about the long hours she spends away from home. She explains her motives to them in a calm, even tone.
"I don't feel like he's dead," she says, "because I haven't seen the body yet."
Elvira's unfinished home is in Palau, a town of about 15,000 people in the heart of Mexico's only coal mining region, a place where seemingly endless days of clear skies run up against the peaks of the Sierra Madre mountains.
Two hundred million years ago, the Gulf of Mexico extended across this area, allowing lush vegetation to thrive. Fossilized plants are now buried deep below the desert, and their remains yield about 12 million tons of coal a year.
When an Austrian engineer discovered these energy riches in the late 19th century, northern Coahuila state quickly transformed from a sparsely populated region of cattle ranchers to an industrial powerhouse. Thousands of Japanese immigrants came seeking work; some of their descendents, with Japanese surnames, are still here.
Coahuila coal feeds steel mills in Monclova and Monterrey, the country's third-largest city. Two coal-fired electric plants near the Texas border supply as much as 8 percent of Mexico's electricity.
As a result, dozens of towns live and die on mining, none more so than Palau. Its central plaza features a statue of a gold-tinted miner and a memorial for a 1939 accident that killed 67. At the main church, the priest and a seminarian are former miners.
All know the risks of one of the world's most dangerous professions, and, for the most part, they accept those risks.
The family's story
Jorge Bladimir Munoz took his first mining job more than a decade ago. He had been working at a factory near the U.S. border, but he wanted to be closer to his new wife, Elvira Martinez. They grew up blocks away from each other on Palau's dusty back streets.
"I didn't like him. He had a big ego," Elvira said of Jorge, who, as a boy, loved to boast of his prowess on the soccer field. Gradually, Elvira's impression changed, and the two started dating. At a New Year's Eve dance in 1991, he proposed. They married six months later. He was 20, she was 19.
Jorge was a thin man with a trim goatee and a serious demeanor. His children brought out his playful side, challenging him to wrestling matches in the living room or soccer games on the dirt road in front of Elvira's parents' house, where they all lived.
In 1996, Elvira and her husband began clearing a plot of land on the edge of town to start work on their own home. They spent two months using machetes to hack away thorny huisache trees. When money was available, Jorge and his friends would construct the building, piece by piece, using concrete blocks.
Two years ago, Jorge found a job at Pasta de Conchos. It paid him 600 pesos a week, about $60, an average wage for a miner. A few weeks before he started working, an inspector from Mexico's labor ministry discovered dozens of violations in the mine, including poor ventilation, gas and oil leaks, and excessive amounts of highly explosive coal dust, according to a report released this summer by Mexico's National Human Rights Commission.
Soon after the inspection, the mine's joint safety commission, comprising managers and union officials, told the government the most serious issues had been addressed. The government, which has five work-safety inspectors for more than 100 coal mines and dozens of factories in northern Coahuila, would go a year and a half without conducting a follow-up inspection.
Arturo Bermea Castro, an engineer and general director of operations for Grupo Mexico's mining division, said the company assiduously powdered the mine to prevent the spread of coal dust. Government representatives said they never received complaints from workers about dangerous conditions.
Some miners or their relatives say the company threatened to fire those who complained, although Grupo Mexico officials hotly reject that charge.
Jose Luis Calvillo regularly complained to his wife about high levels of methane in Pasta de Conchos. He wanted to leave, but he had no options. His father, a former miner who now works for the government, had been trying to find him a new job.
"I was scared, but there was no other work," said Sonia Godina Guevara, Mr. Calvillo's wife.
Fermin Rosales Martinez, one of 11 survivors of the Feb. 19 accident, said coal dust was a significant problem, along with exposed electrical wires. The company did not seem to take such things seriously.
Last year, a supervisor yelled at him for wearing an earring.
"There are worse problems in the mine," he told his boss. He was suspended for two days.
On Feb. 7, three months after their own verification deadline, government inspectors returned to Pasta de Conchos. They found that many of their safety concerns had been addressed, although their report said coal dust was still an issue in closed sections of the mine.
Jorge never told his wife Elvira about mining safety problems. He did, however, spend hours discussing the approaching date when they and their three children, Tania, Christian and Estefania, would move into their own home.
After 10 years of work and almost $30,000 of expenses, the house was livable. It still needed a master bedroom, but, as work continued, the couple could sleep in the living room with the children.
Jorge left for work at 9:30 p.m. Feb. 18, a Saturday. He told his wife he had bought a bag of cement to work on the house.
"See you tomorrow," he said.
In Nueva Rosita, a nearby coal-mining town, Mr. Calvillo and his wife also were preparing to move into a new home. Mr. Calvillo had spent part of the day installing electrical outlets. Before leaving for the mine's night shift, he kissed his three children and told his wife to stop doing chores. He said he'd help her finish the next morning.
About 2:30 a.m. Sunday, Fermin Rosales was standing on a platform just inside the mine entrance, waiting for equipment to arrive.
He heard an explosion. He felt a powerful blow to his back.
Two hours later, he said, he regained consciousness. He was in the same place, on the platform. He felt sharp pains all over his body. Huge rocks, support timbers and steel beams littered the mine floor. An engineer took him outside on a train car.
The Pasta de Conchos explosion was Mexico's most devastating coal-mining accident in 37 years. Everyone -- the federal and state governments, the company, the Mexican Congress, the mine workers union -- promised a detailed accounting of what went wrong.
Yet that accounting has been slow in coming. The recovery effort at the mine sometimes proceeds inches a day, as workers use pickaxes and jackhammers against 40-foot rock falls. On June 23, they found the body of Felipe de Jesus Torres, the only unmarried miner to die in Pasta de Conchos.
"We are responsible. Of course we are responsible. But we are not guilty," said Juan Rebolledo, Grupo Mexico's vice president for international affairs. "It's something you cannot control. Coal mines are dangerous everywhere in the world."
The company has said recovery work will continue, no matter what the cost.
A week after the accident, when the chance of finding survivors seemed almost nil, Grupo Mexico officials held a series of small meetings with the widows and offered the $75,000 cash payments. During her meeting, Elvira ran from the room.
Since then, she has received her husband's triple salary, a little more than $200 a week. But the extra money, she argues, "was a strategy to get us away from the company."
Many widows initially agreed, yet they found $75,000 difficult to turn down. Some soon adapted to a different standard of living, with new clothes, makeup and jewelry. A few bought pickup trucks.
And their numbers at the mine started to fall.
For several months, company officials gave reports twice a day at a tent near the mine. Now they deliver a daily written report to the home of each widow, and an engineer is available every morning for individual discussions with family members.
Officials are encouraging family members to start thinking about applying for their government pensions. Once that happens, the company will stop paying the triple salaries, and the widows will see a sharp reduction in their income.
According to local news reports, few relatives have picked up death certificates for the miners, the first step in applying for a government pension.
In June, Elvira and Mr. Rosales traveled to Mexico City to file a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission. The independent body had started an investigation of the accident several months before, after receiving an anonymous call about problems with federal government inspections at Pasta de Conchos.
The commission released a final, nonbinding report July 17. It equated the government's actions with a violation of the constitutional rights of the 65 deceased miners, and it said a failure to recover the bodies would amount to a violation of the widows' religious rights.
Mexico's labor secretary didn't accept the substance of the report, but he did agree to implement its recommendations, including a significant expansion of the number of workplace inspectors and an effort to eliminate inspection backlogs.
In Mexico's coal-mining country, life continues. Mr. Rosales recently finished months of psychiatric treatment to help him deal with depression and anger. His doctor says he is well enough to return to work at the mine, but he won't go back. His wife is trying to find him a job at the avocado-packaging plant where she works.
Elvira hasn't thought about a future beyond the recovery of her husband's body. She'll wait for months or years, whatever it takes. Her family's new home, a squat, one-story structure, is surrounded by barbed wire. Its interior walls are bare except for a small cross.
Elvira's two oldest children envision a different future, possibly with scholarship money from Grupo Mexico. Christian, 11, wants to be a chemist. His older sister, Tania, 13, who received nearly perfect grades in her classes this year, hopes for a career as an astronomer. Estefania, 4, is too young for those dreams.
Experts to investigate mine fatality
Stuff.co.nz - Wellington, New Zealand
11 September 2006
Senior Labour Department inspectors investigating the Roa coal mine collapse that killed a miner on Friday have called in experts to assist.
Former Kiwi international and West Coast league stalwart Bernard (Hergy) Green, 47, died after being buried in a coal collapse 800m from the West Coast mine entrance late on Friday morning.
Nine other miners escaped uninjured.
Labour Department health and safety inspectors immediately began an investigation into the incident, alongside parallel investigations by the police and the Christchurch-based Roa Mining Co Ltd.
Labour Department Canterbury and West Coast service manager Margaret Radford said today two senior inspectors were investigating the fatality and the department had called in experts to assist.
"We have the services of a geotechnical engineer to assist and a surveyor is also involved," Mrs Radford said.
"Because of the complexity and specialist expertise required I would imagine it will take approximately three months to complete the report."
Mrs Radford said the police, which were always involved in industrial accidents involving serious harm or fatalities, would complete a report for the coroner. She also understood the mine company itself was also conducting an inquiry.
Roa Mining managing director Brent Francis told The Press the mine would be partly operational today, but the area of the accident would be closed until the report was completed and the area made safe.
Located on a mountain top west of Blackball, the century-old Roa mine was reopened in the 1990s to tap two major coal seams in the old workings.
It is New Zealand's only privately-owned coal mine and produces high quality coal for export.
The mine employs 30 staff.
Mr Francis has said the miners who survived the collapse on Friday would be offered counselling.
1914: The Ludlow Massacre
libcom.org - London, UK
September 11, 2006
The history of the Ludlow Massacre of striking coal miners, which was one of the most brutal attacks on organised labour in North American history.
It was the pinnacle of efforts by the National Guard and local strike-breakers under the command of the Rockefeller family to suppress a strike of twelve thousand workers
Issues concerning labour had dogged the United States for many years preceding World War I and had resulted in widespread strike action, especially in the West of the country. Tensions rose to a melting point when a union activist was killed in late 1913 resulting in workers at the Rockefeller family owned Colorado Fuel and Iron Corporation’s (CF+I) going on strike. Miners evacuated the coal camps on September 23rd in protest against low wages, poor working conditions and continued victimisation of union activists. This was to mark the beginning of what was to be a harsh seven months of continued brutality and repression at the hands of their bosses.
Miners of the CF+I were paid $1.68 a day and were forced to work in extremely harsh conditions, this was particularly true for the Colorado miners, where fatality rates were often double the national average. What little wages the miners earned were paid in scrip, which was redeemable only at the company store where prices were high.
Attempts of unionisation by the Colorado miners dated back to the first strike of 1883 in which they tried to join the Western Federation of Miners, in 1913 they were attempting to organise into the United Mine Workers of America. (They later joined the Industrial Workers of the World in 1927.)
Demands of the UMWA to the CF+I were as follows:
“…Recognition of the United Mineworkers of America as the bargaining agent for workers in coal mines throughout Colorado and northern New Mexico, an effective system of checkweighmen in all mines, compensation for digging coal at a ton-rate based on 2,000 pounds, semi-monthly payment of wages in lawful money, the abolition of scrip and the truck system, an end to discrimination against union members, and strict enforcement of state laws pertaining to operators’ obligations in supplying miners with timbers, rails, and other materials in underground working places.”
The demands of the union and the continuing strike action enraged the Rockefeller family, which through mine ownership effectively ruled the region. They evicted striking workers from their company owned homes leaving them (along with their families) to face the harsh Colorado winter months without shelter. Assisted by UMWA groups across the US, the strikers organised ‘tent cities’ close to canyon mouths which lead to coal camps (in an attempt to block strike-breakers replacing them) and continued their strike.
Through various agencies the company was able to hire men to take a more aggressive stance against the striking workers, armed guards were supplied to harass strikers and union organisers. An armoured car with a mounted machine gun was even built which was appropriately named the ‘Death Special’ by the company guards. As tensions escalated between CF+I and the strikers, miners dug protective pits beneath their tents to shield themselves and their families against random sniping and machine gun fire from the company guards. On October 17th the ‘Death Special’ was used to attack the Forbes tent colony resulting in the death of one miner. A young girl was shot in the face and another boy’s legs riddled with machine gun bullets also. Confrontations between striking miners and scab workers were also resulting in additional deaths. On October 28th the Governor of Colorado, Elias M Ammons called out the National Guard to take control of the situation.
The miners however, persevered. Union members and organisers were kidnapped and beaten, shots being fired into the camps from strike-breakers and the National Guardsmen were a constant occurrence and the harsh winter was taking its toll. Worried about the continuing cost of keeping the National Guard in the field, Governor Ammons accepted an offer from the Rockefeller family to put their men in National Guard uniforms.
On March 10th the body of a strike-breaker was found near railroad tracks near the Forbes tents and the National Guard’s General Chase ordered the colony to be destroyed. The strike was reaching a climax, and National Guardsmen were ordered to evict the remaining tent colonies around the mines, despite them being on private property leased by the UMWA.
Ludlow was the largest of the colonies, and on the morning of April 20th 1914, troops fired into the camp with machine guns, anyone who was seen moving in the camp was targeted. The miners fired back, and fighting raged for almost fourteen hours.
In the afternoon, a passing freight train stopped near the camp and allowed many miners and their families to escape to east to an area known as the ‘Black Hills’. After many hours of exchanging fire with the militiamen, the camps main organiser, Louis Tikas met with Lieutenant Linderfelt (the officer in charge of the National Guard assault on the Ludlow camp) to arrange a truce. Linderfelt hit Tikas with the butt of his rifle and soldiers fired several times into his back as he lay on the ground, killing him outright.
That evening, under cover of darkness, the militiamen entered the camp and set fire to tents, killing two women and eleven children who were sheltering from the shooting in a pit below a tent, thirteen other people were also shot dead during the fighting.
As news of the massacre spread, workers from around the country went on strike to show solidarity with the remaining miners on strike in Colorado and to express sympathy for those who had lost loved ones in Ludlow. Several cities in the state were taken over and occupied by miners and some National Guard units even laid down their arms and refused to fight.
However, the workers failed to obtain their demands along with union recognition and many were replaced with non-union workers. No National Guardsmen was ever prosecuted over the killings, even though sixty-six people had been killed by the time violence ended.
In 1918 a monument was erected to commemorate those who died during the strike. These individuals all died in the Ludlow Massacre, and are inscribed on the monument as follows:
Louis Tikas, age: 30 years
James Fyler, age: 43 years
John Bartolotti, age: 45 years
Charlie Costa, age: 31 years
Fedelina Costas, age: 27 years
Onafrio Costa, age: 4 years
Frank Rubino, age: 23 years
Patria Valdez, age: 37 years
Eulala Valdez, age: 8 years
Mary Valdez, age: 7 years
Elvira Valdez, age: 3 months
Joe Petrucci, age: 4 ½ years
Lucy Petrucci, age: 2 ½ years
Frank Petrucci, age: 4 months
William Snyder Jr, age: 11 years
Rodgerlo Pedregone, age: 6 years
Cloriva Pedregone, age: 4 years
One dead, 23 trapped after mine accident
The Australian - Sydney, Australia
From correspondents in Beijing
September 14, 2006
ONE person has been killed and 23 others are trapped after a coal mine accident in northern China, state media said.
The accident happened on Wednesday at the Danangou mine in Datong city in Shanxi province, the authorities said, according to the Xinhua news agency.
An official told Xinhua some 34 miners were trapped originally and that rescuers extracted 11, one of whom died in hospital.
Rescue operations were continuing, the report said.
Floods, explosions and collapses make China's mines the world's most deadly with official figures showing around 6000 workers dying in the industry last year.
Labour rights groups, such as the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, say the real number could be as high as 20,000 each year.
Tech hosts mock mine disaster drill and rescue contest
El Defensor Chieftain - Socorro,NM,USA
The "School of Mines" is becoming a mock mine disaster area.
New Mexico Tech is set to host the first biannual, statewide Metal/Nonmetal and Coal Mine Rescue Contest and the New Mexico Mining Association's 67th Annual Convention and Trade Show next week.
State Mine Inspector Rebecca Boam of the New Mexico Bureau of Mine Safety said she expects about 150 people for the contest and another 250 or more for the convention.
The contests run Monday through Friday.
Professional mine rescue teams are scheduled to work with state and federal officials in a Mine Emergency Response Drill on Friday from 8 a.m. to probably noon, Boam said.
She said the drill would allow participants to role-play and fix any problems.
Earlier in the week, people who work for New Mexico, Colorado and Utah mines have competitions in first aid to identify problems with breathing apparatus, work through rescue scenarios and inspect areas for hazards.
"In response to the recent accidents in the U.S., this is one way to be sure we're prepared to respond to any emergency that should occur," Boam said.
However, she hopes none will happen.
An awards dinner that combines contest and convention participants is set for Thursday.
The conference is scheduled for Wednesday through Friday and includes teaching sessions and reports from regulatory and national agencies. New Mexico Mining Association Executive Director Mike Bowen said the event aims to bring members together and let them know about industry happenings.
"We try to give people an idea of what's going on in the whole circle of the industry," he said.
The main theme will be "your association is working for you," he said. Presenters tell about the group's activities and financial picture.
As for the mine rescue contests, the public is invited to watch. Boam said extra problem booklets and people to answer questions would be available.
The events present an opportunity to learn about the abilities of New Mexico miners and understand industry issues the media has shown, she said.
In Tuesday's first aid contest, teams dealt with a simulated injury.
The same day, miners participated individually in the bench contest. In timed sessions, they searched for planted problems in the breathing apparatus they might use on the job.
"If it's missing even one washer or one component, it could be the difference between life and death if they're in an environment that won't support life," Boam said.
For Wednesday's mine rescue contest, teams of miners work through a scenario of a problem in a mine. They must account for people, remove and put up barriers in simulated entries and map the mock mine and their findings in it.
"And that usually takes about two hours for (each) team to get through that part," Boam said.
In the coal miners' pre-shift contest Thursday, competitors simulate a safety inspection of an area before workers arrive. They find and, if possible, fix problems, and then complete a written exam.
For a contest schedule, visit http://www.bmi.state.nm.us/MR%20Schedule%20of%20Events%20%20Socorro%202006.pdf.
Just address an email to MineRescue@yahoogroups.com
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