25 US workers killed in unsafe mine

This is a video from CBS in the USA called Explosion Rocks West Virgnia Coal Mine; 12 Miners Killed, 10 Others Missing. After the making of this video, casualty numbers have been rising further.

Once again, it seems to be, like in far too many other businesses: profits first, workers’ lives a poor second

From CBS News in the USA:

Coal Mine Blast Leaves 25 Dead, 4 Missing

Rescue Operation Suspended Due to “Conditions Underground” at West Virginia Mine with History of Safety Fines

(CBS/ AP) An explosion rocked a remote coal mine with a history of safety problems, killing 25 workers and trapping at least 4 others thousands of feet underground in the worst U.S. mine disaster since 2006.

Rescuers were forced to halt their effort to reach the area where the miners were believed trapped at Massey Energy Co.‘s sprawling Upper Big Branch mine, where the blast occurred around 3 p.m. Monday, according to a statement from the mining company.

“Rescue efforts will resume as soon as conditions allow,” said Massey’s statement.

“Tonight we mourn the deaths of our members at Massey Energy,” said Massey CEO Don Blankenship. “I want to offer my condolences to the miners’ families who lost loved ones at Upper Big Branch. And I want to thank the rescue teams and the Massey members who continue to work hard on behalf of our miners and their families.”

Millions of people throughout the world will want to offer their condolences to the bereaved families; to wish the best for recovery of the injured; and to wish every success for the rescuers.

The difference between those condolences and wishes and Mr Don Blankenship’s is that these millions of people did not have direct opportunities to prevent this horrible disaster from happening. While Mr Blankenship did have such opportunities. He might have cared a little less about maximizing profits and a little more about safety than he did in fact; that might have saved human lives.

“It’s important for us to try to get to the survivors as quickly as possible,” said Kevin Stricklin, an administrator for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

He said officials hoped the miners survived the initial blast and were able to reach airtight chambers stocked with food, water and enough oxygen for them to live for four days. There was some confusion about how many miners were still unaccounted for, which federal officials were trying to straighten out.

Read the latest news from CBS affiliate WHCS-TV
Read the latest news from CBS affiliate WOWK-TV

At the Marsh Fork Worship Center in nearby Eunice, the church doors stood open and a big sign outside read “Pray for Our Miners.”

“You just feel helpless,” said Toby Hilderbrand, who was waiting for word about his wife’s uncle, Ricky Workman, 51, of Coalcord, who was among the miners that had not been accounted for. “There’s nothing you can do but pray, but at times like this the community really comes together.”

Though the cause of the blast was not known, the operation about 30 miles south of Charleston has a history of violations for not properly ventilating highly combustible methane gas, safety officials said.

Miners were leaving on a vehicle that takes them in and out of the mine’s long shaft when a crew ahead of them felt a blast of air and went back to investigate, Stricklin said.

They found nine workers, seven of whom were dead. Two others were injured. Early Tuesday, Stricklin raised the death toll to 12.

Benny R. Willingham, 62, who was five weeks away from retiring, was among those killed, said his sister-in-law Sheila Prillaman.

He had mined for 30 years, the last 17 with Massey, and planned to take his wife on a cruise to the Virgin Islands next month, she said.

“Benny was the type – he probably wouldn’t have stayed retired long,” Prillaman said. “He wasn’t much of a homebody.”

Prillaman said family members were angry because they learned of Willingham’s death after reading it on a list, instead of being contacted by the company, which said it wouldn’t release names until next of kin were notified.

Officials do not believe that the roof collapsed, but two other crews and a safety inspector who had been working alone were believed trapped about a mile and a half underground.

Stricklin, an administrator for Coal Mine Safety and Health, said 10 miners were trapped. But MSHA director Joe Main said in an interview with The Associated Press that there could be more and officials were trying to sort it out. In a news release, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said 17 miners were missing.

Distraught family members were briefed and taken to a Massey building off-limits to the media.

“We want to assure the families of all the miners we are taking every action possible to locate and rescue those still missing,” Massey CEO Don Blankenship, said in a statement.

Massey Energy, a publicly traded company based in Richmond, Va., has 2.2 billion tons of coal reserves in southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, southwest Virginia and Tennessee, according to the company’s Web site. It ranks among the nation’s top five coal producers and is among the industry’s most profitable. It has a spotty safety record.

Mining Company Previously Fined for Safety

CBS News investigative producer Laura Strickler reports that, according to the MSHA, Massey was fined $897,325 in 2009 and paid $168,393 of that fine. Already in 2010 the mine has been fined $188,769 and has paid $2,676 to date.

In the past year, federal inspectors have fined the company more than $382,000 for repeated serious violations involving its ventilation plan and equipment at Upper Big Branch, which is run by subsidiary Performance Coal Co. The violations also cover failing to follow the plan, allowing combustible coal dust to pile up, and having improper firefighting equipment.

Massey was also at the center of a major Supreme Court case in 2008, after its CEO Don Blankenship was sued and then accused of basically buying a friendly seat on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, reports CBS News legal analyst Jan Crawford.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state Supreme Court justice Brent Benjamin should have recused himself from the appeal of a $50 million jury verdict against Massey, because Blankenship spent $3 million to get him elected to the state court.

In the case at issue, a rival mining company had sued Blankenship and Massey, saying they’d tried to drive him out of business, and the jury agreed. The state Supreme Court overturned that verdict – with Benjamin in the 3-2 majority – which led to the U.S. Supreme Court appeal.

The mine company has had three other fatalities in the last dozen years. Monday’s blast was the worst U.S. mine disaster since the Sago explosion, also in West Virginia, which also killed 12.

Methane is one of the great dangers of coal mining, and federal records say the Eagle coal seam releases up to 2 million cubic feet of methane gas into the Upper Big Branch mine every 24 hours, which is a large amount, said Dennis O’Dell, health and safety director for the United Mine Workers labor union.

The colorless, odorless gas is often sold to American consumers to heat homes and cook meals. In mines, giant fans are used to keep methane concentrations below certain levels. If concentrations are allowed to build up, the gas can explode with a spark roughly similar to the static charge created by walking across a carpet in winter, as at Sago.

Since Sago, federal and state regulators have required mine operators to store extra oxygen supplies. Upper Big Branch uses containers that can generate about an hour of breathable air, and all miners carry a container on their belts besides the stockpiles inside the mine.

Rescuers trying to reach the trapped miners found evidence that the workers took emergency oxygen supplies from a cache in the mine, Stricklin said. There are two rescue chambers near the blast site and another two a bit farther away.

West Virginia requires all underground mines to have wireless communications and tracking systems designed to survive explosions and other disasters. However, Stricklin said much of the network near the missing men was likely destroyed in the explosion.

United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts issued the following statement today: here.

CNN on this: here.

West Virginia Mine EXPLOSION: Massey Energy Mine Had Scores Of Safety Citations: here.

Not Enough Is Being Done To Make Mines Safe, Former MSHA Chief Says: here.

From Associated Press today:

XIANGNING, China — Efforts to reach 33 Chinese miners still trapped in a flooded coal pit forged ahead Tuesday, following the rescue of 115 of their fellow workers who were pulled out a day earlier after more than a week underground.

3 thoughts on “25 US workers killed in unsafe mine

  1. Pingback: West Virginia miners still missing | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Massey’s criminal mine disaster | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: US workers killed at unsafe refinery | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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