14 Miners Lose Lives in McDowell Blast
Charleston Gazette, West Virginia
January 16, 1946
Welch, Jan. 15. -- (AP) -- Thirteen persons were killed and another died subsequently in a hospital but 253 miners escaped today in the most unusual catastrophe ever recorded in a century of coal mining in West Virginia.
Twenty-two other men working deep inside the Havaco No. 9 mine of the New River Pocahontas Consolidated Coal Company along the Tug River were injured in an explosion which wrecked buildings in the immediate area.
Whether any other dead will be found in the mine remains to be seen but E. L. Chatfield, inspector-at-large of the state mines department, indicated they did not expect to find any more.
Rescue workers, with Chatfield in charge, entered the workings without the traditional gas masks, the inspector explaining that the air below was unusually good.
General Manager P. P. Kerr of the company, declared it was a miracle that more were not killed. He said 267 were in the mine.
School children in a building 500 feet away were injured by flying glass, while five women and children in the company grocery store were taken to a Welch hospital for treatment of various injuries resulting from the terrific blast.
Thirteen of the 14 known victims apparently were killed outright, while Luther Tolley, 34, of Havaco, died several hours later in Grace Hospital.
Five of the 22 injured were discharged after treatment and returned to the mouth of the wrecked shaft.
Company officials reported that 267 men were at work when the deep rumble first warned the disaster-wise section that a blast had occurred.
Within an hour, the first survivors walked out unassisted up an emergency stairway which somehow remained intact even though the "head house" of the opening and tipple were destroyed by the terrific blast.
There were a father and son, Edward and James Mullins, who said the smoke and dust was so dense below they had to crouch down and hold their lights to the mine car rails to guide them to the shaft and safety.
All through the tense day as the familiar disaster crowed of relatives, nurses and others assembled around or within the roped-off area, workers continued to emerge from the wrecked workings.
Most of them walked upright unaided. Some appeared dazed and leaned heavily on their more fortunate fellow workers. Some had to be half-carried or dragged.
Bodies of the dead, which had been removed, mostly were found at the foot of the wrecked shaft.
Rescuers improvised a big metal bucket and a cable to hoist out first those too seriously hurt to be carried up the emergency stairway, and then the bodies.
Witnesses as well as officers at the scene said considerable damage appeared to have been done to buildings at and around the mine.
The structural steel work of the tipple was twisted and broken. Store Manager Louis Antone said the power house, black smith shop and wash room had been destroyed or badly damaged.
Every window in the company store was shattered. Employees pulled down the blinds and tacked them to the sills to keep out the cold.
The store is 1,000 feet from the mine shaft, Antone and others estimated.
Tonight, the company sent checkers around to the miners' homes in order to compile a final and complete check of everyone known to have been in the workings when the explosion occurred at approximately 9:30 a.m.
The Havaco mine is located approximately one-half mile southeast of Welch.
Havaco operates the No. 3 Pocahontas seam at one level, and the No. 4 Pocahontas at another level 90 feet lower down the shaft.
Workers are taken underground in a big cage which operates up and down the shaft. The fact that the steps were spared appeared to be part of the miracle of the mining men, because the shaft was destroyed leaving an emergency exit for those remaining alive.
The casualty list of the Havaco No. 9 coal mine explosion, reported by company officials and attaches at Grace Hospital today, included:
Known dead, all of Havaco:
Luther Tolley, 34
Earl Bechler, 35, mine foreman
Alber Miller, 47, mine foreman
William Cooper, Negro
James Gibson, way boss
Four victims were not identified.
The injured, all in Grace Hospital, included:
Lester Mathes, 33, Welch
Oscar Chandler, 23, Havaco
Luther Hampton, 36, Roderfield
James Cragett, 23, Havaco
James Bell, 30, Roderfield
Jack Tolley, 26, Welch
Cass Frazier, 56, Havaco
James Williams, 23, Havaco
Sol Goins, 49, Havaco
James Z. Bridgeman, no age, Havaco
Pete Wimmer, 58, Hensley
George Day, 29, Welch
Charles Dixon, 41, Hensley
Jerry Hatmaker, 50, Roderfield
Oliver Mabry, 43, Welch
Clarence Hale, 24, Havaco
Estel Murphy, no age or address available
Hale was described as the most seriously injured.
Miners released after treatment included:
William Bradley, 45, Welch
Charles Nunnelly, 58, Welch
A. Z. Townsend, 37, Havaco
Claude Dillon, 36, Welch
David McCoy, 26, Havaco
The women and children admitted to the hospital that were injured in the company store included:
Mrs. M. DeFelice, 47, Welch
Their ages and addresses were not available.
Workmen's Compensation Commissioner E. B. Pennypacker sent his assistant, John C. Ward, from Charleston to the scene of the Havaco No. 9 mine disaster in McDowell County to give any assistance possible to the miners and their families.
Ward will aid in the filing of claims to expedite compensation payments to families of the dead and injured, and "give any other assistance possible under the law."