To see the entire coal mine disaster list for America alone since 1839 would be a feat, however the CDC National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has a list of incidents with 5 or more fatalities, which consists of 623 records. The number of metal and non-metal mining disasters is much less than that of coal mines, amounting to roughly 14.4% of the total mining disasters in the US. We will list only the most significant here in keeping with our man made disasters list format, and will continue to add as time goes along.
Coal Mine Disaster
Important Note: We start the list with the worst 3 disasters in the US before starting with the top world listings
1. Monongah, West Virginia Coal Mine Disaster
- Monongah, West Virginia
- Fairmont Coal Company
- December 6, 1907
- Number Killed: 362
- On Friday morning at 10:28 A.M. December 6, 1907, the number 6 and 8 mines of the Monogah mine facility, owned by the Fairmont Coal Company suffered a catastrophic explosion which killed nearly all of the men in the mine. It did little damage to the number 6 slope, but along with the deaths, it did wreck the ventilation system, smashed motors and cars, destroyed mine number 8 openings, and destroyed the boiler-house and fan. Four men were lucky enough to escape this catastrophe and 1 man was luckily rescued. After all was said and done, 362 poor souls were killed in this, the worst industrial accident in US history, and the 16th worst in the world.
Finally, by December 12th, all the shafts were ventilated, and fully searched by rescuers who recovered 337 bodies. In the next week 17 other unfortunate miners were found, and 8 more were killed working to remove the fallen rock and restoring the workings of the mine. One of the men found dead was an insurance agent who had entered the mine to do business with the men.
Around the time of the explosion, a trip of loaded cars had reached the knuckle of the No. 6 slope, when part of the trip broke away and ran to the bottom of the slope, which caused a pile up and blocked the entryway. It is thought that the wreck ignited the dust cloud by an arc from electric wires torn down by the wreck or by open lights of men in the vicinity.
This opinion was accepted by some of the most expert of the investigators. Separate investigations were made by parties of mine inspectors from West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, representatives of the Fairmont Coal Company and the Federal Geological Survey, and by a Commission of European mine investigators who were in the United States at the request of Dr. Joseph A. Holmes to study the problem of coal mine explosions.The evidence of the origin of this explosion was confused and hard to pinpoint, leading some of the investigators to attribute the explosion to blown-out shots, with others placing the blame on gas ignited by open lights, or to dust clouds ignited by electric arcs or open lights.
Rescue crews restored the mines ventilation system by building brattices to conduct the air from No. 6 fan. Three fires were later found and fully extinguished using water. All of the mines props and timbers were blown down, causing heavy cave ins of the ceilings, except in one entry.
2. Stag Canon No. 2 Mine Coal Mine Disaster
- Stag Canon No. 2 Mine
- Phelps Dodge and Company
- Dawson, New Mexico
- October 22, 1913
- Number Killed: 263
- At At around 3 P.M. on October 22, 1913, an overcharged shot was fired in a dusty pillar section of the No. 2 mine, creating an explosion of the coal dust along the carrier tracks and into most of the mine, except where water and inert dust in the roads caused it to fade out. The explosion blew out the explosion doors and one side of the fan house, but were repaired in less than three hours. The disaster was the second worst in US history, and the 20th overall in the world.
The mine employed around 300 men, of those 284 were in the mine at the time of the blast. Of those 284 men, 14 came out safely from an area unaffected by the blast, and nine others, who were knocked unconscious near the bottom of the air shaft were rescued around 8 P.M. that same evening by an apparatus crew. They were revived by the use of pulmotors. The damage done by the blast was not that great, outside of the 263 deaths. Cars were wrecked in some areas and most of the stoppings were blown out.
3. Great Cherry Coal Mine Disaster
- Cherry, Illinois
- Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad
- November 13, 1909
- Number Killed: 259
- The coal fields in northern Illinois experienced more than a few such dreadful disasters. One of the worst took place on November 13, 1909 in a mine near the little town of Cherry, just a few miles north of La Salle, Ill. on Illinois Highway 13. By 7:00 a.m. that morning 481 men and boys had descended the shaft to reach the coal, in some cases more than 500 feet below the surface. This disaster is the third worst in US history, and the 23rd worst in the world.
It was as a day like any other, except that the electrical system had broken down and the mines were lit the old-fashioned way. Kerosene torches were placed along the walls; but the miners were used to that and nobody was alarmed by this dangerous act. Around lunch time several bales of hay were dropped down the hoist to feed the forty mules that were stabled underground. The mules job was to pull the little cars, which had been loaded with coal by the miners through the tunnels to the elevator hoist.15-year old Matt Francesco and another man pushed one of the cars piled with the hay over to the stable area and gave it a final shove down the track, and then returned to work. Ironically enough, the car filled with hay came to a rest under one of the open torches, which of course didn’t take long to set the hay ablaze. Miners attempts to move the car out of danger only spread the fire more. As in all fires, the smoke and heat became overpowering, as the fire began to spread throughout the mine.
Finally management sent out the signal to clear out the mine, but it was too late for many on that fateful day. 16 -year-old Peter Donna who led his father through the smoke and darkness toward an escape route had this to say; “After my father and I got to the second level the fire blocked us off. It singed my hair on the side of my face and my head. We circled around the burning section and made our way to the main lift. The smoke almost overtook us. I led the way, as all the lights were out and our matches wouldn’t stay lit. We met only a few others who came with us on the way. When we finally reached the lift, there was no trouble getting on it and up the shaft. It took several seconds for my eyes to get adjusted to the bright light of the surface. When I finally could see, I couldn’t find my father. I wanted to go back down into the mine and get him, but they stopped me. After a couple more cage-loads of men came up, my father stepped off with an old man he had saved.”
But sadly. 259 men and boys were never saved despite great deeds of heroism by volunteer rescue teams. Sadly, that heroism was rewarded with death for no less than twelve of the rescuers. They were a hastily assembled team of people from the town who went down in the cage six times, each time dragging more of the miners to safety. Another team went down for a seventh trip into the fire and brimstone down below, however, none of the brave heroes returned from trip seven alive.
This coal mine disaster in Cherry, Illinois brought great tales of unbelievable suffering and endurance by both workers and rescuers on this day. There was a group of miners who, at 500 feet underground, built a wall of mud, rocks, and timbers to block off the poisonous gasses from the fires. They were stuck in total darkness for eight days with only a pool of water leaking from a coal seam to drink. After 8 days holed up, they could not bear it anymore and proceeded to tear down the barricade and began crawling through the tunnels. Finally, they heard the sounds of a search party. Twenty-one of the men still alive from this group were rescued.
25 days after the fatal fire, the Cherry mine was sealed. The question of compensation for the lost lives of the miners and rescuers still remained to be resolved. The laws governing worker’s compensation and employer liability were not yet on the Illinois statute books, and the mine company had gone into bankruptcy. At length, it was agreed that the settlement of claims would be based on standards set in the Workman’s Compensation Act, which had recently passed in the British Parliament.
In June of the following year, a relief commission was set up and included a representative of the United Mine Workers of America, the union of the coal miners. They administered a relief fund collected from the public, plus a contribution by the coal company, which was actually owned by the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad. It came to enough to give about 1,800 dollars to the bereaved families.
In 1910, the Illinois legislature, being compelled by the public outrage over the tragedy, established stronger fire and safety regulations governing mines. A year later, the State adopted a liability act, which later developed into the Illinois Workmens’ Compensation Act.
4. Benxihu Colliery Coal Mine Disaster
- Benxihu Colliery
- Benxi, Liaoning, China
- Japanese Army Controlled
- April 26, 1942
- Number Killed: 1,549
- On April 26, 1942, a gas and coal-dust explosion in the mine killed 1,549, 34% of the miners working that day, making it the worst disaster in the history of coal mining. The explosion sent flames bursting out of the mine shaft entrance. Miners’ relatives rushed to the site but were denied entry by a garrison of Japanese guards who erected electric fences to keep them out.
In an attempt to starve underground fire from oxygen, the Japanese shut off the ventilation system and sealed the pit head. Witnesses at the time stated that the Japanese did not bother to evacuate the pit fully before sealing it, thus leaving many Chinese workers trapped underground to suffocate in the smoke. The Japanese actions, or inactions, are to blame for needlessly increasing the death toll. It took workers ten days to remove all the corpses and rubble from the shaft. The dead were buried in a mass grave nearby. Many victims could not be properly identified due to the extent of the burns.
The Japanese at first reported the death toll to be just 34. Initial newspaper reports were short, as little as 40 words, and downplayed the size of the disaster as a minor event. Later the Japanese erected a monument to the dead. This stone gave the number of dead to be 1327. The true number is believed to be 1,549. Of this number, 31 were Japanese, the rest Chinese.
The mine continued to be operated by the Japanese until the end of World War II in 1945. Following the Japanese withdrawal, the workers took control of the site. With the liberation after the war, the Soviet Union investigated the accident. They found that only some of the workers died from the gas and coal-dust explosion. The Soviet report states that most deaths were due to Carbon Monoxide poisoning caused by the closing of the ventilation system after the initial explosion and resulting fire.
5. Courrières Coal Mine Disaster
- Courrières mine disaster
- Northern France between the villages of Méricourt, Sallaumines, Billy-Montigny, and Noyelles-sous-Lens about 2 km (1 mi) to the east of Lens, in the Pas-de-Calais département (about 220 km, or 140 miles, north of Paris).
- Compagnie des mines de houille de Courrières
- Saturday March 10, 1906
- Number Killed: 1,099
- Shortly after 6:30 A.M on Saturday, March 10, 1906 a large explosion was heard in the surrounding area. The elevator cage at Shaft 3 was thrown to the surface, causing damage to the pit-head workings along with windows and roofs being blown out on the surface at shaft 4. In shaft 2, an elevator cage was raised only to find dead or unconscious miners. The total death toll for this catastrophe was 1,099 miners, making it the second worst mine disaster in the world and Europe’s worst mining accident ever.
The cause of the explosion which swept through the mine was generally agreed to be caused by an explosion of coal dust, causing the majority of the deaths and destruction. However it has never been ascertained what caused the initial ignition of the coal dust. Two theories exist for the cause of the explosion, either by an accident of the handling of mining explosives or the ignition of methane by the open flame of a miner’s lamp.
There is evidence that favor both of these theories. Blasting was being done in the area believed to be the source of the explosion, after initial attempts to widen a gallery had been abandoned the previous day for lack of success. Many workers in the mine used lamps with open flames instead of the more expensive Davy lamps, despite the much greater risk of gas explosions.
France’s General Inspector of Mines Monsieur Delafond put it in his report the following: “The primary cause of the Courrières catastrophe could not be determined with absolute certainty. This is what generally happens in catastrophes where all the witnesses to the accident are gone.”
Rescue attempts began quickly on the morning of the disaster, but were hampered by the lack of trained mine rescuers in France at that time, and by the scale of the disaster: at least two-thirds of the miners in the mine at the time of the explosion would be found to have perished, and many survivors were suffering from the effects of gas inhalation. Expert teams from Paris and from Germany arrived at the scene on 12 March. The first funerals occurred on 13 March, during an unseasonal snowstorm; 15,000 people attended. The funerals were a focus for the anger of the mining communities against the companies which owned the concessions, and the first strikes started the next day in the Courrières area, extending quickly to other areas in the départements of the Pas-de-Calais and the Nord.
About six hundred miners were able to reach the surface during the hours immediately after the explosion. Many were severely burned and/or suffering from the effects of mine gases. A group of thirteen survivors that later became known as the rescapés, were found by rescuers on 30 March, twenty days after the explosion. They had survived at first by eating the food which the victims had taken underground for their lunch, later by slaughtering one of the mine horses. The two eldest (39 and 40 years old) were awarded the Légion d’honneur, the other eleven (including three younger than 18 years of age) received the Médaille d’or du courage. A final lucky survivor was found on 4 April.
6. Mitsubishi Hojyo Coal Mine Disaster
- Mitsubishi Hojyo Coal Mine
- Kyūshū, Japan
- Mitsubishi Hojyo
- Dec. 15, 1914
- Number Killed: 687
- On Dec. 15, 1914, a gas explosion at the Mitsubishi Hojyo coal mine in Kyūshū, Japan, killed 687, making it the deadliest mine accident in Japan’s history. (No other information available, sorry.)
7. Laobaidong colliery coal dust explosion
- Laobaidong Mine
- Datong, Shanxi China
- May 9, 1960
- Number Killed: 684
- On 9 May 1960, an explosion at the Laobaidong mine in Datong, Shanxi province, killed 684 miners. (No other information available, sorry.)
8. Wankie Colliery Coal Mine Disaster
- Wankie Colliery
- Wankie, Rhodesia
- June 19, 1972
- Number Killed: 472
- A cable car was hurled like a giant cannonball from the No. 2 mine shaft of the Wankie Colliery in northwestern Rhodesia, burning a row of papaya trees before it came to rest 50 yds. away. That was the first sign of the disaster. An explosion, possibly emanating from a dynamite magazine, had devastated the major shaft of the mine that produced all of Rhodesia’s coal. On or near the surface, four men were killed instantly. Hundreds of feet below, 472 miners, 436 of them black, 36 white became trapped amid rock and deadly methane and carbon monoxide fumes.
9. Mitsui Miike Coal Mine Disaster
- Miike Coal Mine
- Mitsui Miike
- Kyushu, Japan
- November 9, 1963
- Number Dead: 458
- The Mitsui Miike Coal Mine disaster was an accidental explosion at the Miike coal mine in Kyushu, Japan on November 9, 1963. Four-hundred fifty-eight people were killed by the explosion or carbon monoxide poisoning caused by the explosion. Eight-hundred thirty-nine others were injured by the blast or carbon monoxide poisoning. Many of the poisoned survivors suffered severe, permanent brain damage.
10. Senghenydd Colliery Coal Mine Disaster
- Senghenydd Colliery
- Universal Colliery
- Senghenydd, Caerphilly, Glamorgan, Wales
- October 14, 1913
- Number Dead: 439
- The Senghenydd Colliery Disaster, also known as the Senghenydd Explosion, occurred in Senghenydd, near Caerphilly, Glamorgan, Wales on 14 October 1913, killing 439 miners. It is the worst Mining accident in the United Kingdom, and one of the most serious globally in terms of loss of life coming in at number 7 in the world.
The explosion was thought to have been started by firedamp (methane) being ignited, possibly by electric sparking from equipment such as the electric bell signalling gear. The initial explosion disturbed coal dust present on the floor, raising a cloud that then also ignited resulting in a shock wave, which ahead of the explosion raised yet more coal dust, so that the explosion was effectively self-propelled and fueled. The miners not initially killed immediately by the fire and explosion would have died quickly from after-damp, the noxious gases formed by the combustion of the dust. These include lethal quantities of carbon monoxide, which kills very quickly by combining preferentially with hemoglobin in the blood. The victims are then suffocated by a lack of oxygen or anoxia.
Prior to World War I the demand for Welsh steam coal was enormous, especially by the Royal Navy and its huge fleet of steam battleships, dreadnoughts and cruisers, and by foreign Navies allied to Britain and the British Empire. Coal output from British mines peaked in 1914, and there were a correspondingly large number of terrible accidents during the era. The worst was at the Universal Colliery in Senghenydd and occurred as a result of a coal dust explosion that traveled through most of the underground mine shafts.
That wraps up our first coal mine disaster list from the series of Man Made Disasters Causes and Effects Part 5, and the causes and effects are the usual, being cheap, bad management, carelessness, and the loss of life. Make sure you stay safe my friends!