Saturday, May 20, 2006

Five Miners Killed In Explosion: "It's A Crisis."

The carnage underground continues.

Five coal miners were killed today in an explosion in Harlan County, Kentucky. One miner was able to escape unharmed.
The blast at the Darby Mine No. 1 in Harlan County occurred between midnight and 1 a.m. EDT while a maintenance shift was on duty, said Amy Louviere, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. It was the latest in a string of mine accidents to hit U.S. coal country this year.

"We don't know the details of the cause," [Kentucky Governor Ernie] Fletcher told The Associated Press.

The five dead miners were found by rescue workers, the governor said. The rescue teams initially found three dead workers and later found two more, he said.
Miners killed in the explosion were: Amon Brock, Jimmy Lee, Roy Middleton, George William Petra and Paris Thomas Jr.. The mine is operated by Kentucky Darby LLC.
United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts urged state and federal mine officials to "redouble their inspection and enforcement activities, starting now."

"This tragedy only compounds what has already been a horrific year in America's coal mines," Roberts said in a statement.
Today's deaths bring to 31 the number of coal miners killed during 2006, a year that began with the Sago mine tragedy, where one miner was killed in an explosion and 11 others suffocated to death while awaiting rescue. Twenty-two coal miners were killed in all of 2005. Ten Kentucky miners have been killed this year, compared with 8 in all of 2005.

Mine safety experts declared a crisis:

“I think it’s a crisis right now,” said Tony Oppegard, former general counsel to Kentucky’s mine safety agency. “When we have 31 coal miners killed in less than five months, that’s a crisis and it needs to be treated as a crisis and dealt with.”

“We need to stop this fiction that all coal operators are good guys and all you need to do is talk them and they’ll do the right thing, which is the cornerstone of the Bush administration philosophy,” Oppegard said. “We need to crack down on operators instead of trying to babysit them.”

In 2005 and 2005, the mine reported no injuries, according to MSHA, but had been fined over $8300 and paid almost half of that total. Most of the almost 80 citations were for less than $200 each, even though one-third were classified as "serious and substantial," the highest level of MSHA violation. The mine received an additional ten citatations earlier this month for which fines have not yet been assessed. Four of those are considered by MSHA to be serious and substantial, one of which was for "Accumulation of Combustible Materials."

Earlier this week, House Democrats, as well as Democrats and Republicans in the Senate introduced mine safety legislation in response to the high number of coal mining deaths this year. The state of Kentucky passed coalmine safety legislation earlier this year.

More information on mine safety problems this year can be found here.