Explosion at U.S. coal mine kills 12, traps 10

13:10, April 06, 2010      

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Authorities said early Tuesday an explosion at a coal mine near Charleston, West Virginia killed at least 12 miners, and at least 10 people were missing.

Kevin Stricklin, an administrator with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, told a news briefing just past midnight Tuesday that rescue workers found 5 more bodies as they dug into the underground Upper Big Branch mine, where a blast was reported Monday afternoon. He said rescue workers are looking for at least 10 people.

Massey Coal CEO Don Blankenship said earlier 7 miners are dead and 19 others missing in the coal mine in Raleigh County, operated by Massey Energy subsidiary Performance Coal Co. The mine is located at about 50 km south of Charleston, capital of West Virginia. The new casualties bring the number of the dead to 12.

The new bodies were found 1000 to 2000 feet underground. According to Stricklin, miners were leaving the mine on a vehicle that takes them in and out of the long shaft when the blast occurred.

He said rescuers were getting closer to airtight refuge chambers for miners to go to if they become trapped. He said the priority is to get to the possible survivors as soon as possible.

Ron Wooten, director of West Virginia Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training, said the explosion occurred at about 3 p.m. local time Monday. Massey Energy didn't immediately provide further details with regard to the casualties, extent of damage or if there were people trapped inside, saying those numbers are "uncertain" at the time.

Local TV WCHS said dozens of miners are believed to be trapped underground. Emergency crews from the private sector, the State and federal agencies are responding to the incident. Nine of them were already on the scene as of Monday evening, including teams from Massey Energy, Conso Energy and the state Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training. Dozens of county and state emergency personnel were on site aiding in rescue efforts. The rescue crews are usually made up of six members each.

West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller released a statement Monday evening saying he is working with state and federal officials to get as much information as possible and is doing all he can to "help make sure all resources are made available for this rescue effort."

The state's Governor Joe Manchin was out of town, but working to get back, according to his office.

It is reported that the mine has caches of extra oxygen along emergency escape routes. It also has airtight refuge chambers to provide enough air to keep miners alive for four days.

Massey Energy, the fourth largest coal producer in the United States according to revenue, operates 35 underground and 12 surface mines in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, according to the company website.

Mine deaths are relatively not common in the United States. Last year, the number of U.S. miners killed on the job was 34, 18 of them died in coal mines. Notable accidents in recent years include West Virginia's Sago Mine methane explosion, which killed 12 miners in 2006. Six also died in Utah's Crandall Canyon mine cave-in in 2007.



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