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Benwood Mine Disaster


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At about 7:10 on Monday morning, April 28, 1924, the workday was just beginning at the Benwood coal mine south of Wheeling. As the miners went through their daily routine of preparing their work areas and undercutting the coal, an explosion ripped through the Wheeling Steel Corporation mine. Portions of the main entry were blocked by slate falls and debris.

Two fire bosses had reported the mine free of gas before the workers entered the portal to begin their shift. A miner found a roof fall about 22 feet from the room face. Thinking the fall had been examined by the fire boss he went over the fall toward his room and his open light ignited the firedamp, an explosive mixture of methane and air. In all probability the fall occurred after the fire boss had visited the area. The mine was dry and dusty—sprinkling and ventilation were poor—and the subsequent dust explosion carried to every area of the mine.

The rescue effort was slow, difficult, and dangerous. The first teams began digging soon after the disaster, but the destruction of the haulage ways and entries slowed the initial exploration. The possibility of deadly afterdamp, as the carbon monoxide that follows mine explosions is called, presented a serious threat to rescue workers. While the rescue teams worked, relatives kept a constant vigil outside the mine, but by Friday it became clear that 119 men were dead.

Written by Jeffrey B. Cook

Sources

  1. Various newspaper accounts. Wheeling Intelligencer. Apr.-May 1924.