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Mine Disasters in the United States

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Duvin Mine Disaster Memorial
Duvin Coal Company
Owned by R. B. and F. V. Ruchman
Duvin Mine Explosion

Providence, Webster County, Kentucky
July 14, 1939
No. Killed - 28

USBM Final Investigation Report  (3.1 Mb)  PDF Format

Accident scene drawing

From the Google News Archives:  External Link
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(From Bureau of Mines Report, by C. A. Herbert)

At the time of the explosion, about 7:20 p.m., 38 men were in the, mine, 5 of whom were at the shaft bottom, where they felt only a slight rush of wind and did not realize that anything had happened.  Five of the men in the explosion area escaped, 4 being slightly cut and bruised.  A trip rider standing near a telephone at a parting was knocked down but received no injuries; he called the top foreman and then helped two injured men out of the smoke and fumes to a place where a locomotive was sent to bring them to the shaft.  Two other motormen also came out with their locomotives.  The main haulage was on a separate circuit and was not affected by the explosion.

Help was called, but as a trained apparatus crew was not available rescue crews used gas masks and put up temporary brattices to advance the air into the affected areas.  The work proved difficult and dangerous as the airways were caved and blocked so that it became necessary to reverse the fan and bring fresh air up the haulage entries.

It was the afternoon of July 17 before entrance was made into the left entries off the 14th entry, where nine men had hung curtains across the entries in a futile attempt to keep back the afterdamp.  The curtains were poorly hung and of little benefit, although notes left by the men showed that they were alive 6 hours after the explosion.  The bodies of the 19 others who were killed instantly were recovered from the explosion area by July 18.

The body of a shot firer was the only one mutilated, and parts of his cap lamp were blown outby, others inby.  His explosives box had disappeared.  Evidently while making up primers he removed the shorting clips from legwires of detonators, and the wires contacted the rails or poorly insulated cables of a cutting machine.  Coal dust was ignited by the explosives blast.  Rock dusting had been neglected, and the mine was in poor condition throughout.

Historical Summary of Mine Disasters in the United States - Volume I
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Henderson County History  External Link

19 Trapped Miners are Found Dead, 8 Missing after Dust Explosion
Middlesboro Daily News, Kentucky
July 15, 1939

Providence, Ky. -- Rescue squads found 19 miners dead in the gas laden galleries of the Duvin Coal Company mine today.  Eight were still missing.

The rescuers were digging furiously through the debris in the deep tunnel.  Thirty men had been trapped by the explosion last night which closed the tunnel 181 feet below the surface with a wall of stone and dirt.  Six other men working in the tunnel escaped to the surface.

Three men were found early today and sent to the surface.  Two of the rescued, Ernest Johnson and Douglas Cates, had been caught beneath the fallen walls, Dennis Walker, was not hurt.  William Reynolds, who had been working near the shaft were injured.  They removed from the explosion also came up unassisted.

The blast occurred about two miles from the bottom of the shaft.  The 27 still missing had been working about 1,000 feet beyond the point of the explosion.

They reported their plight to surface crews on the mine telephone.  Then the telephone went out.

Rescue crews feared that the blast may have loosened slate falls cutting the entombed men off from the telephone or that gas had driven them into an incommunicable chamber deep in the mine's many labyrinths.

State mine inspector John Danlola rushed here from Lexington to direct the rescue crews, gathered from mines here and at Earlington, Sebrec, Madisonville and St. Charles.

Charles C. Herbert, supervising engineer of the U. S. Bureau of Mines at Vincennes, Ind., 100 miles north, dispatched a truckload of mine rescue equipment.

The single road leading from Providence to the mine one mile away was closed to all except ambulances and rescue traffic but relatives of the trapped men and about 2,000 townspeople, stood around the mine head all night.

The blast occurred at about 7:30 p.m., four and a half hours after the night shift had reported for work.

James Gold, surface foreman described it as follows:
"There were 36 men on the No. 9 seam when the explosion occurred.  The men who were working at the deepest point telephoned me that 'something had let go'"

"A few minutes later there was a signal from the bottom of the shaft.  We sent down the cage and brought up Henry Depriest, Roy Baker, Joe Thomas, Roscoe Higdon, Everett Hibbs and Ed Mayes.  None of them was hurt.  They told us they saw Ernie Johnson get caught in the fall."

"The first rescue group wasn't able to get far into the corridor and came back for more equipment.  The second time they went down they found Johnson and Cates and Walker.  I think they'll get the rest of them alive."
The mine, completely mechanized, normally employs a night shift of 75 men but it had been reduced recently for the slack season.  It is owned by R. B. and F. V. Ruchman, brothers.

Electrical current leading from the shaft into the corridors was cut off after the explosion for fear sparks would cause a fire.  An electrical motor pumping air into the corridors was kept in operation.

Cates said the explosion occurred at the end of the horizontal tunnel, where it splits into a fork.
"Johnson, Walker and I were working in the left Fork, which slants upward and connects with the old workings," he said.

"The explosion was in the right fork, where the rest of the men were working."

"The force of the blast knocked down Johnson and me and we were covered with debris.  Walker pulled us up to the connection with the old workings, while the air was clear, until the rescue crew came."
Injuries of Johnson and Cates were slight.  After an examination and rest, they returned to aid in the rescue work.

9 More Bodies Found in Mine at Providence
Middlesboro Daily News, Kentucky
July 17, 1939

Providence, Ky. -- G. T. Powell, U. S. Bureau of Mines Inspector, announced today that rescue workers had found the bodies of nine additional miners in the Duvin Coal mines, making a total of 28 victims in a dust explosion which rocked the mine Friday night.

The bodies were found behind a make-shift barricade in a gallery 185 feet below the surface and almost three miles from the shaft.

Rescuers had been hopeful of finding the nine men alive when they found evidence that the men had erected the barricade to protect themselves from has-laden air.

Powell said the barricade had been ineffective because the men had not had sufficient material to make it airtight.  He said rescuers had reported the men had used some of their clothing to fill breaches in the barricade.
"The gas seeped through the cloth," Powell said.  "It was the only available material they had to use."

"The rescuers found them lying in orderly fashion on the floor of the gallery."

"Most of them had their arms folded across their chests, a position they would have taken while awaiting rescue.  They undoubtedly died from the gas."

He said the trapped men had left two notes.  One was timed 12:30 a.m. Saturday.

"All alive and well," it said.

The second was timed at 1:40 a.m. Saturday.

"All still alive," it said.  That was the last note.
Thirty-eight men were in the mine when the explosion occurred.  Seven working near the shaft came to the surface and three others were rescued a half mile from the scene of the explosion.  Rescue crews found the bodies of 10 and said nine others who had been working with that group had been buried in water and debris.

Powell said rescuers had started moving the bodies from the spots they were found to the bottom of the mine shaft -- distances of from two and one half to three miles -- and that they would be brought to the surface this morning.

Police cleared away from the mine entrance nearly 1,500 persons, including wives and children of the victims, who had been tearfully awaiting word from below.  They also ordered all streets from the mine to the City Council Chamber cleared when the bodies are taken there this morning.  Powell said the bodies would be laid out in the Chamber to await relatives to claim them.

The victims found today were:
  • Arch Gold, 43
  • Rudell Lepper, 32
  • Charles Wallace, 34
  • Sike Boyd, 48
  • Clyde Cole, 26
  • Elmer Sales, 48
  • Gordon Hodge, 40
  • Wanda Willilams, 28
  • Allen Chambers, 28
Rescuers, working in eight-hour shifts, had endangered their lives since Friday night in their efforts to reach the men.  The Gallery where the bodies were found today was about 2,000 feet from the gallery in which the other victims died.

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