Centralia, IL Coal Mine Disaster, Mar 1947
LITTLE HOPE FOR 122 MINERS.
CENTRALIA DISASTER TUESDAY AFTERNOON MAY TAKE HEAVY TOLL.
ONLY NINE SURVIVORS OF 131 MEN AT WORK IN SHAFT HAD BEEN ACCOUNTED FOR AT MINE.
Centralia, Ill., March 26 -- (AP) -- Hope of life for the last of 122 men entombed by a coal mine explosion near here Tuesday afternoon all but flickered out today, but cheerless rescue workers kept digging away nevertheless in a gaseous, clogged-up passage 540 feet underground.
The picking and the toiling slow work in the thick of the lingering fumes, in about 20 hours had accounted for only nine survivors of the 131 who were caught in the blast just a few minutes before quitting time.
Old hands at such things were agreed: they didn't have a chance.
But the sleepless families of the men, quiet and staring, stayed on at the bleak tipple to face the worst.
Some Rescuers Saved.
The nine survivors did not include some rescue men who had rushed down the shaft, fallen in the fumes and been saved by others.
Some of the dead had been counted, but there was no hurry to get the bodies up to the top. The main effort was centered on burrowing through fallen timbers and other debris and sealing the rooms off one by one as they were searched.
FRED HELLMAYER, chief electrician of the mine -- the Centralia Coal Company's No. 5, at the south edge of Centralia -- went down the shaft shortly after the blast, and he was one of the first to say the men not saved in the first few hours didn't have a chance.
If the worst fears of experienced observers are borne out, this will be recorded as the nation's worst coal mine disaster in nearly 19 years. A total of 195 miners were killed at Mather, Pa., May 19, 1928.
Night Shift On Hand.
While the night shift stood around yesterday afternoon awaiting their time to go to work, a rumbling rush of air came up from the shaft and after it came a column of milky gray smoke. In the time it took for the word to spread, help was coming from over the country-side for miles around -- ambulances, doctors, nurses, disaster relief workers, and soldiers from Scott Field.
Held back by police lines, a crowd pressed around the pithead until long after midnight, standing in freezing weather and occasional spits of snow, as floodlights lit the scene, but today it had thinned out.
The talk of the mine people thinned out, too. They had less and less to say, and more of them stayed at home.
State Officials Arrive.
Starte officials were checking into the cause or causes. The immediate official explanation was coal dust.
The injured survivors were treated at an emergency medical station in Centralia's Community center and in a hospital. One managed a grin as he said: "I've dug my last mile of coal."
ELMER H. BAIRD, a "face" boss at the mine who went down last night and counted 14 bodies, put his anguish in these words today:
"I may be chicken-hearted, but every time I'd lie down to rest and close my eyes I'd see the bodies lyin' there. I'm not going home or leave here until -- well, until it's over."
"I tell you it's pretty tough to pass up the bodies of your buddies, but we have to pass them up now because there's a possibility there are a hundred men or more back in there still alive."
"I'm not saying how it happened -- only what could have happened. That is, those men heard the 'whoosh' of an explosion and ran out of their workings into the main passageway for fresh air."
"Then the fan stopped, the air reversed, and the 'black damp' probably doubled back and got them. As I say, that might have happened."
Dixon Evening Telegraph Illinois 1947-03-26
76 MEN STILL TRAPPED IN MINE.
BODIES OF 18 MORE CENTRALIA MINERS CARRIED OUT TODAY.
TOTAL DEATH TOLL OF TUESDAY'S BLAST LIKELY TO REACH 111, BELIEF.
(By The Associated Press)
One hundred eleven soft coal miners feared lost in Tuesday's Centralia mine explosion; of 142 men in the mine at time, 76 remained trapped, 35 are known dead and 31 rescued alive; disaster may prove coal industry's worst in 19 years.
Rescue crews working along three and one-half mile tunnel 540 feet underground fail to find a single living miner since a few hours after blast. State mine inspector says week may be needed to recover all victims' bodies.
Kinfolk of missing diggers keep sad virgil at improvised morgue set up in nearby bus garage.
U.S. senate orders inquiry after Senator BROOKS (R-Ill.) declares safety codes violated under federal administration of nation's mine operations; Centralia Coal Company officials withhold reply comment.
AFL United Mine Workers local officer says union asked Illinois governor year ago to see that safety laws are enforced "before we have a dust explosion": Governor GREEN says investigating commitee reported complaint "sounds a good deal worse than it really is."
Circuit court of Washington county, Illinois, promises grand jury investigation of whether criminal negligence was involved.
State inspectors say examination of mine a week ago showed various unsafe conditions, company officer says, "We have been working on recommendations but all cannot be accomplished within few days."
Centralia, Ill., March 27. -- (AP) -- Fears that the death toll of Tuesday's mine explosion ultimately would reach 111 were intensified today as the bodies of 18 more miners were brought up the shaft of the Centralia Coal company's No. 5 mine.
The recovery of these victims brought to 35 the number of known dead and left 76 still trapped below. A rescue squad leader gave those pinned underground "no chance at all."
A heavy snow fell over the grim setting as rescue squads, after working through the early morning hours, brought the second group of dead miners from 540 feet below the ground. There were only a few persons at the pit as the bodies were placed in ambulances and taken to a temporary morgue in a nearby bus garage. Last night 16 bodies were removed to the garage. Earlier one miner removed from the mine on Tuesday, died.
Bodies Twisted Bruised.
An unidentified rescue worker said the bodies of the 18 brought from the pit today were twisted and bruised and clothing on some were burned, indicating they had been nearer to the explosion than the 16 miners who were found last night.
As the death toll mounted, with a rescue leader predicting it would reach 111 company officials said rescue attempts would be pushed, "we're not going to give up."
The toll of 111 dead predicted by WILLIAM J. ROWEKANIP, rescue leader and recording secretary of the Centralia local of the AFL United Mine Workers whose members worked the mine, would rank the disaster as the greatest in the nation's coal fields since 195 lost their lives in 1928 at Mather, Pa.
Company Revises Totals.
The company presented a revised total of the number of miners who had been in the mine at the time of the blast. Vice President W. P. YOUNG said 142 men had been in the mine and 31 had been removed alive. Earlier he said 151 men had been below and 30 had been rescued alive.
ROWEKAMP'S views were echoed by other rescue workers who said that not a single victim has been taken alive from the mine since Tuesday night several hours after the explosion.
Opinions varied widely as to the length of time that would be required to complete exploration of the more than 3 1/2 mile tunnel, 540 feet below ground, in which the trapped men had been working.
DRISCOLL O. SCANLAN, an Illinois state mine inspector, said because of slow progress it might take a week to probe to the end of the seven-foot high passage. Mule power was being used in preference to machinery for fear of electrical sparks detonating gasses collected in the workings. Rescue workers wore gas masks. Side diggings off the east-west passage were being boarded up to assure beter ventilation for rescue workers.
30 Work Through Night.
However, a federal mine inspector who asked that his name not be used, said the squad of 30 who worked grimly through the night had "checked all but two entries on the east-west passage" and said he believed the men still unaccounted for were in these side passages.
This inspector, who had been active in rescue work, commented "I have a good idea of what their chances are," but declined to elaborate.
Bodies taken from the mine were moved temporarily to an improvised morgue in a nearby bus garage. Relatives of the miners held a vigil at the mine entrance during the day and early evening yesterday as the tedious rescue work far underground proceeded slowly and a heavy snow began falling in 25-degree temperatures, they went to their homes.
MINERS WHO PERISHED IN THE CENTRALIA NO. 5 MINE DISASTER.
JOE ALTADONNA; RODRIGO ALVAREZ; JOE BALLANTINI; ALVIN M. BARNES; MARTIN BASOLA; NICK BASOLA; DOMENICK BENEVENTI; HARRY A. BERGER; CELSO BIAGI; HAROLD JACK BRYANT; JOE BRYANT; EDWARD BUDE; OTTO BUEHNE; RAYMOND C. BUEHNE; TOM BUSH; JOHN BUSSE; CHARLES CAGLE; THEODORE V. CARRIAUX; ARTHUR H. CARTER; JOSEPH CERUTTI; DOMENIC CERVI; ANTON CHIAROTTINO; PAUL COMPER; CLIFFORD COPPLE; FRANK COPPLE; LEO R. DEHN; EUGENE ERWIN; GEORGE EVANS; FRANK FAMERA; ANDREW FARLEY; WALTER H. FETGATTER; JOHN FIGIELLK; WILLIAM F. FORTMEYER; RAY FOUTS; ODIA LEE FRANCIS; LUTHER FRAZIER; MARTIN FREEMAN, SR.; MARTIN P. FREEMAN, JR.; ALBERT FRIEND; BRUNO GAERTNER; ANGELO GALLASSINI; TONY GIOVANINI; JOHN GROTTI; LOUIS GROTTI; ADOLPH GUTZLER; JOHN H. GUTZLER; FRED W. GUTZLER; JOHN W. GUTZLER; HENRY HOEINGHAUS; EDWARD HOFSTETTER; GUSTAVE HOHMAN; NED L. JACKSON; HENRY KNICKER; PHILLIP KNIGHT; JOSEPH KOCH, SR., CHARLES KRAUS; FRED LAUGHHUNN; DOMENICO LENZINI; PETE LENZINI; MILES McCOLLUM; CHARLES McGREAVEY; CLARENCE McGREAVEY; JOHN MAZEKA; WILLIAM MENTLER; FRED MOORE; ELMER G. MOSS; HENRY W. NIEPOETTER; CHARLES OESTREICH; GEORGE PANCEROFF; FRANK PAULAUSKIS; JOHN PAWLISA; CHARLES L. PEART; JOSEPH H. PEILER; ALVA F. PETREA; WALTER PELKER; PETER PIASSE; JULIUS PIAZZI; LOUIS PIAZZI; JOHN PICK, SR.; JOHN PLACEK; ALFREDO POLLACCI; GEORGE POWELL; RICHARD PRIVETTE; GLENN PURCELL; NICK REGGO; JACOB W. RETHARD; FORREST RHODES; CARL ROHDE; DANIEL C. SANDERS; JACOB SCHMIDT; ARCHIE SCHOFIELD; LEE GERARD SHAW; ANTON SKROBUL; CLARENCE SMITH; RAY O. SMITH; ANDREW SPINNER; JOSEPH SPINNER; ALFRED STEVENS; H. W. SUNDERMEYER; JAMES TABOR; ANTHONY TICKUS; STANLEY TICKUS; ANTON TILLMAN; EMMETT UHLS; DUDE VANCIL, SR.; JOE VANCIL, SR.; MARK L. WATSON; JOE ZINKUS; MAX ZONARINI.
Dixon Evening Telegraph Illinois 1947-03-27
Researched and Transcribed by Stu Beitler. Thank you, Stu!