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Mine Disasters in the United States


H. C. Frick Coal and Coke Company
Superba Mine and Lemont Mine Inundations

Evans Station, Fayette County, Pennsylvania
July 24, 1912
No. Killed - 18



Additional H. C. Frick Coal and Coke Company Disasters: From the Google News Archives:  External Link
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(From “Mines and Minerals,” September 1912, pp. 69-71)

On July 24 a tremendous downpour of rain occurred in the vicinity of Uniontown, Pa., that found its way into the Superba mine and trapped 14 men.  At about the same time the flood found its way into the Lemont mine about 1 mile away, drowning four men.

Both the operations are in Fayette County, a few miles northeast from Uniontown, Pa.  Superba, the smaller mine, is at Evans Station, and is purely a coal shipping proposition working on one of the upper measures known as the Sewickley coal, a bed about 5 feet in average thickness and separated from the Pittsburg, or Connellsville coking seam by some 90 feet of intervening strata.

The main openings of each plant are more than a mile apart and are on opposite sides of the same main valley.  The Lemont openings enter direct on the outcrop and with the inclination of the seam; the Superba inlets, in the opposite hillside, swing around in several consecutive angles until they get the natural bearing and follow the same inclinations as the Lemont workings.  The dip on the main slope of the Superba mine is about 7 per cent; the Lemont opening is more on a local “backbone” in the basin, consequently somewhat flatter.

The conformity of the surface area covered by the recent flood is not one that would naturally cause apprehension or anticipation of this unusual disaster, save in the fact that the coal outcrops along the bottom of the foot-hills defining the valley; but the latter is one of ample width and extent, with several miles of gently rolling or undulating country to the base of the regular mountain chain on the east (Laurel Ridge).

The waters did not enter either mine through the natural or expected sources, the regular mine openings, but in each place broke through the surface in the low places of the main valley and where the old workings had been driven up almost to the crop of the coal, leaving but a few feet of surface to cover these excavations.  Flowing into these old excavations, it sought its own course, spread in all directions, and was simply beyond human control for the time being.  Eventually the body of water covering the valley did rise sufficiently high to flow into the manways of both plants, and in this rise, sections of low country for miles around were covered and impassible, indicating the suddenness and extent of the storm.

The first sign of serious trouble took place about 1 p.m. in the sudden disappearance of a heavy stream of water that flowed along the western ditch of the railroad; immediate investigation showed the water to have broken through the surface at the Superba mine; and from all reports a similar break occurred at the Lemont mine at about the same hour.  Sixty odd men were at work in the Superba mine and a full quota of employees at the adjoining plant.

Messengers acquainted with the workings were at once dispatched to notify the men of their danger and then hurry them out as rapidly as possible; and after strenuous effort on the part of the messengers and many narrow escapes, all but 14 of the total in Superba and 4 in Lemont made their way to safety.  That effective and very rapid work was done by the messengers is illustrated in one case where a Superba trackman, working in the extreme dip and farthest point in the mine, was rescued along with many others.

Of the other 14 men lost, several were within rescue distance, but the rush of the water carrying with it timber and heavy debris, finally battered and beat them back until there were totally exhausted and lost.  Much of this final overpowering was due to the additional stream flowing into the traveling way shortly after the messengers started on their journey to notify the men; this new stream caught even the messengers on their return trip and in their then exhausted condition, their escape was only short of miraculous.

Also, in this mine, with only 5 feet of height in which to travel, all the men were handicapped, due to the crouched position necessarily maintained; and as the water continued to rise, their space for air supply became rapidly contracted, and all the way through they suffered many physical disadvantages in the strenuous endeavor to make their way to safety through strong current of water, laden with debris, and with the usual passageways blocked with foreign matter.

While a dip of 7 per cent is rather heavy in the usually flat beds of coal in this section, such pitch does not afford, as has frequently been the case in the heavy pitching anthracite seams, highly elevated places to which men can retreat in case of flooding, and where for a limited time they will likewise find air storage sufficient to maintain life, if quick rescue can be accomplished.  But in the present case, as the water flowed in the main openings or even the new breaks, it would rapidly fill up all the excavations, and those who could not keep ahead of this rise, would be trapped and covered.

As the men were all probably on their way out from the various parts of the mine, where those who became victims met their end it would be difficult to state; many of them would likely be floated off to other parts from where they met the water until they lodged on some obstruction.

In the Superba mine there are probably 40 acres of exhausted territory now full of water, and the length of time required to pump it out is problematic, depending on the success with which persistent endeavor will be met, and the amount of repair work to be done as the work advances.  This work of pumping and eventual recovery of the bodies was put under way as quickly as the conditions would allow.

The inundated portion is one of much commercial activity; several railroads, a street railway, and numerous mines and industries, as well as the homes of the employees, are strung along the valley for some miles.  Bridges are numerous both on highway and rail, indicating the tortuous course of the streams; and the stoppage of water through a few of these at a critical time becomes a serious matter.  It would appear that it might be good policy for the numerous industries to come to some arrangement for establishing of definite water channels.

While the possibilities of a similar flood are equally for and against its occurrence, an investment of the kind here referred to will be of much smaller moment than the many thousand dollars lost in a few hours during this recent downpour; and the guarantee of safety to the men working underground will be a feature far more commendable and of greater moment than any monetary consideration.


Flood Traps Forty Miners
Breaking of a Reservoir Dooms Workmen Near Uniontown, Pa.

The Fort Wayne Sentinel, Fort Wayne, IN
July 24, 1912

Uniontown, Pa., July 24 --- The Coolspring reservoir was reported to be leaking badly at 3 o'clock this afternoon there is danger of its going out entirely.  If the dam gives way the water will sweep down the mountain on the towns of Lemont, Youngstown, Mount Braddock and Dunbar.  It is estimated that 20,000 persons reside in the four towns and the loss of life and destruction of property is feared will be great.

Forty miners were caught in a flood at the Superba coal mines at Evans' station, three miles from this city, this afternoon.  All are believed to have been drowned.

Torrents of water are entering the mine in two places.  Water is rushing down the mountain and it is believed the Cool Spring reservoir, the largest in Fayette county, located in the mountain, has broken.  The Pennsylvania railroad, the Baltimore and Ohio railroad and the West Penn trolley tracks have been washed away.

Little hope is entertained for the town of Evans.  The wives and children of the miners are in danger of being carried into the mine as they refuse to leave the mouth of the slope.  Rescue parties have been formed, but at 2 o'clock they had been unable to reach any of them.

The business section of Dunbar, a few miles from Evan's station, is under four feet of water, a number of business buildings have already been destroyed by the rush of water down the mountain side.  The debris is piled 25 feet high at a bridge of the Pennsylvania railroad and it is expected to give way at any moment.

The latest reports at 2:45 are that fourteen of the miners have been drowned and that there is little hope of rescuing the others alive.  Torrential rains continue to fall and further loss of life and damage is expected.


Hundreds Left Destitute by Surging Flood Waters

Pittsburgh, Pa., July 25 --- With hundreds of people homeless and thousands suffering from lack of food and shelter, fourteen miners drowned like rats caught in the spring of a trap, and with thousands of dollars of damage wrought, western Pennsylvania and West Virginia today slowly are beginning to realize the terribleness of yesterday's cloudburst and floods.

Today telephone and telegraph wires to many sections of the two states are down, railroads and trolley lines are washed away, hundreds of acres of low lying ground in under water and rescue parties are endeavoring to recover dead bodies and defend their homes against the still rising waters.

Evans station three miles north of Uniontown was the severest sufferer so far as can be learned today.

More than fifty miners in Superba mine No. 2 were caught when the waters rose and fourteen were killed by the swirling flood which poured into the manhole in spite of the desperate efforts of the women and children to stop the streams with sticks and dirt.

Dunbar, a town of 3,000 also on the Fayette county watershed, was swept by floods, which covered the streets with six feet of water and wrecked homes and stores.  Four Baltimore & Ohio bridges, the magnificent Pennsylvania railroad bridge and every trolley road in the district was demolished by the flood.

In the Redstone valley, about thirty miles from Uniontown, more than six hundred families awoke this morning on the muddy hillside under makeshift shelters of blankets, quilts, boards and straw.

There are many stories of heroic rescues and narrow escapes.  With the re-establishment of communication.  It is feared that there will be heavy loss of life reported.

The mining town of Smock, near a huge reservoir at the junction of the Redstone creek and the Youghiogheny river was the heaviest sufferer.

Miners are reported missing at various operations throughout the immediate territory but mine officials declare that all the men have been accounted for and that the reported loss of life is owing to the hysterical condition of the flood sufferers.

Weatherman Pennywitt and his assistants tried all night long to get in communication with the flooded areas and issued flood warnings from time to time but wrecked wires prevented authentic information.

An eighteen foot stage is expected at Pittsburgh and it is probable that McKeesport.  Homestead and Brownsville will be flooded today as the waters early were creeping toward the danger mark.

The rainfall over the Monongahela rainshed will total two inches.  The Turtle Creek Valley also is a heavy sufferer and the damage is enormous.  Garden truck and farm crops were destroyed.

Early today it was reported that almost every wire from West Virginia was down and reports were slowly filtering in be messengers of terrific losses.

While the rainfall in Pittsburgh proper was heavy there was no unusual damage.


Death Roll Totals Seventeen

Uniontown, Pa., July 25 --- Seventeen dead, it was believed shortly afternoon today, will be the extent of the terrible ravages of the inundations following yesterday's heavy rains.

Three are dead in the Lamont mine.  So far as is known this is the extent of the fatalities.

Rescuing parties in boats attempted to enter the mines, but again were driven back by the on-rush of waters today.

Telephone and telegraph communication to West Virginia points, notably Elkins, Grafton, Fairmont and points south of Morgantown was cut off today and no news had been heard from them up to 1 o'clock this afternoon.

Railroad and telegraph and telephone companies were the heaviest sufferers it developed today.



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