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Death Toll in West Frankfort Mine Disaster Mounts to 27
The Alton Evening Telegraph, Illinois
July 25, 1947
West Frankfort, Ill., July 25. (AP) -- Twenty-seven coal miners were killed in an underground mine explosion yesterday, and a federal mine inspector who examined the seared corridors today said ignition of gas caused the blast.
William Gallagher, Evansville, Ind., the federal mine inspector who began his examination of Old Ben Coal Company's No. 8 mine while rescuers still sought the last three bodies said "It was a gas explosion. There's no question about it."
Twenty-six of the approximately 200 miners at work in the diggings 500 feet underground were found dead about a mile and a half south of the main entrance shaft. One of five seriously injured miners removed to a hospital died today.
Many miners working in other parts of the mine said they did not know there was an explosion when they received orders by telephone to leave the mine.
Gallagher said, "the area where the explosion occurred had been amply and recently rock-dusted, and this appears to have been a factor in localizing its effect."
Harold L. Walker, state mine director, said the area where the explosions occurred had been rock-dusted Wednesday -- the day before the blast.
(Rock-dusting -- the sprinkling of rock dust on the floors and walls of the mine entries and passages -- is a safety procedure designed to keep down coal dust, which becomes explosive when suspended in certain concentrations in the air.)
The bodies of the 26 men recovered from the mine had all been brought to the surface today and were placed in an emergency morgue set up in the gymnasium at the Central junior high school.
Gas Hampers Work
Work was hampered by carbon monoxide gas and the last three bodies were buried beneath coal and debris.
Harold L. Walker, Illinois director of mines and miners, said many of the bodies were badly burned indicating, he said, a fire had broken out following the explosion.
During the rescue operations there had been conflicting reports of the total number of men trapped. The rescue teams worked frantically to reach the men in the belief they had been trapped by rock slides and might be alive. However, early today Walker said all 26 men were dead. Earlier Coroner D. J. Clayton of Franklin County said 28 had lost their lives.
The blast occurred within one day of four months from the explosion last March 25 at the Centralia (Ill.) Coal Co.'s mine which cost the lives of 111 miners.
News of the explosion in mid-afternoon spread quickly through this coal mining city of 13,000 and hundreds of persons rushed to the diggings on the southern outskirts.
Rescue crews were hastily organized and calls were put in for extra supplies of blood plasma. Relatives of the miners flocked to the mine. Mrs. Arthur Fritts of West Frankfort, was one of the first at the scene and learned that husband, Arthur, 27, was among the miners trapped. She was taken to a hospital after she collapsed but later returned and was at the mine when her husband's body was brought to the surface.
The Rev. B. P. Mongan, Catholic priest of nearby Herrin, recognized three of his parishioners when bodies of 15 miners were brought to the surface. Although they were dead he administered the last sacraments of the church.
Flee To Surface
Dr. R. W. Smith, chief surgeon at the UMW hospital said the injured miners told him the explosion occurred in an air circulation cut called the Thirteenth East Cross Cut. Scores of the miners who fled from the digging after telephoned instructions from the surface said they did not know there had been an explosion.
Walker told newsmen after he had made an inspection of the mine that he could not "make a guess" as to the cause of the blast.
William W. Lamont, manager of the UMW hospital, said the injured miners told him that dust ignited by a spark from a motor caused the explosion, and a fire followed.
Gov. Dwight H. Green of Illinois in Chicago yesterday preparatory to leaving for a brief vacation in California, postponed the trip and hurried to the disaster scene.
Green named Walker state mine director following the disaster at Centralia and a subsequent investigation. The No. 8 mine was last inspected on May 9 and "conformed to all state mine safety regulations," the state mines and minerals department said.
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