Portage, PA Mine Explosion Kills 63 Workers, July 1940
63 PERISH IN FLASH EXPLOSION AT PORTAGE MINE.
RESCUE WORKERS RECOVER BODIES OF TRAPPED MEN.
TOWN'S MUNICIPAL BUILDING TURNED INTO TEMPORARY MORGUE -- CORONER TO HOLD INQUEST AFTER FEDERAL, STATE INQUIRIES END.
LARGE THRONGS GATHER AT MINE TO WITNESS RESCUE.
Portage, Pa., July 16. -- The death toll in the flash explosion at the Sonman coal mine rose to 63 today.
The bodies of 63 workers were removed from the mine by gas-masked rescue workers and taken to a temporary morgue at this town's municipal building. The last body to be taken from the mine was that of THOMAS SHAW, a wireman trapped deep in the 18th entry.
A coroner's inquest will be held as soon as state and federal mine inspectors have completed their probe.
As rescue crews broke into heading No. 16, the death toll rose sharply this morning. In the 16th entry, the bodies of Section Foreman JAMES MONTEETH and several members of his crew were found behind a barricade they had thrown up in a desperate attempt to save themselves from the deadly gas.
As the blast tore through the north dip section of the 50-year-old mine at 11:15 a.m. yesterday, a tongue of flame burned the bodies of some of the miners. No bodies were crushed, however, as there were no cave-ins as usually occur in mine explosions.
Company officials estimated that state compensation payments to widows and other dependents of the 63 killed will approximate $500,000. Under a voluntary group insurance plan maintained by the company, beneficiaries of 42 of the victims who carried the insurance, will draw $500 for each of the 42. This insurance is being paid today by the company.
Because the victims lived in widely scattered communities, no mass funeral is planned for the dead.
This was Pennsylvania's worst mine disaster in more than a decade. On March 21, 1929, an explosion at Parnassus, Pa., Westmoreland county, killed 46 while 195 died in a blast at Mather, Pa., Greene county, on May 19, 1928.
Wives, children and relatives of the entombed miners, standing at the shaft entrances and soaked to the skin by a heavy rain, silently watched the bodies being removed. They were not permitted to view the dead early today.
Twenty-one men escaped a few minutes after the explosion believed caused by gas or rock dust had rumbled through the north diip, trapping the men working almost 8,000 feet from the headings of entries 16, 17, and 18.
The disaster at Portage, a town of less than 1,000, some 80 miles east of Pittsburgh, was the third mine explosion in the Ohio-Pennsylvania-West Virginia soft coal district this year.
Ninety-one miners were killed at Bartlery, W. Va., Jan. 10, when an explosion ripped the No. 1 mine of the Pond Creek Pocahontas Co., and 72 were killed in an explosion at Willow Grove No. 10 mine, owned by the Hanna Coal Co., at Neffs, O., March 16.
Sheriff C. W. DAVIS of Cambria county and 100 special deputies, aided by state police, established a temporary morgue in the municipal building here.
Thirteen of the bodies were recovered last night. To prevent scenes and avoid confusion, the remaining victims were being identified at the bottom of the drift some 500 feet from the mine entrance, by fellow workers and company officials.
Coroner PATRICK McDERMOTT said the bodies were only slightly burned. He said the cause of death was probably gas, as air circulation in the blasted area was stopped when the battens, cross pieces used as supports between the entries, were blown out.
The explosion occurred approximately 12,000 feet back from the mouth of the slope entrance. About 225 miners were working in the entire "E" seam at the time of the blast, but only 33 were believed in the three headings affected.
Some of the 21 men who escaped were slightly burned by the hot air that rolled through the mine. Thirteen of them came out of the 18th heading and eight escaped from the 16th heading. The majority of those killed were trapped in the 17th heading.
"I saw a flash and I heard a loud noise and rumbling," EDWARD BEM, one of the survivors, said. "Then things started to fall all around and I yelled 'explosion.'"
"It was hot and difficult to breathe and we got down and stopped for a while. The air was better down low. We crawled on our hands and knees and finally made our way to the 'dip' where we were rescued."
The Sonman mine, one of the largest in Cambria county, rich bituminous field, employs 1,200 miners, 400 to a shift. The mine is the livelihood of the stricken town.
Harrisburg, July 16. -- The state department of mines reported today that both Secretary JOHN IRA THOMAS and his deputy, JOSEPH WALSH, have gone to Portage to assist mine inspectors in an investigation of the Sonman bituminous coal mine blast that entombed at least 62 miners yesterday.
Daily News Huntingdon Pennsylvania 1940-07-16
Listing of Miners Killed In the Portage Mine Explosion:
From the Johnstown Tribune 1940-07-16
ALEX UVEGES, Cassandra.
JOHN HEBDA, Jamestown.
LEWEY (LEWIS) MONTEL, Ebensburg.
JAMES MONTEITH, Foreman, Ebensburg.
JOHN LESTER, 22, Sonman.
JOHN PANYAK, Sonman.
JOE SMITH, 33, Cassandra.
JOSEPH KUZEN, Portage.
AUGUST SNYDER, 32, Beaverdale.
JOHN TRUNAK, Cassandra.
CHARLES KLUT (KLATT), R. D. 1, Portage.
EMMETT MOYER, Gallitzen.
AUGUST BEM, 27, R. D. 2, Portage.
FRANK SZURA, Jamestown.
FLORIA PASSA, Portage.
STEVE SARVASH, Cassandra.
FRANK CHILESKI, Portage.
JOSEPH HOLLIDAY, 38, Jamestown.
JOHN THOMAS, Portage.
JOHN SIMO, Portage.
LEO ETIENNE, JR., Portage.
MIKE SIMO, SR., Portage.
GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, Portage.
THOMAS HUFF (HOUGH), Portage.
JOSEPH SIMO, Portage.
JOHN SIMO, Portage.
HARRY McVICKER, 40, Portage.
WILLIAM WISNISKIE, Portage.
PETER SIBIS, 32, Lilly.
LAIRD ZIMMERMAN, 20, Portage.
GEORGE STUPAKI, Portage.
CLAYTON BARANETT, 29, R. D. 2, Portage.
WILLIAM FLYNN, Portage.
JOHN RUDASH, Portage.
DOLY RUDASH, Portage.
MIKE CHERNISKY, Portage.
JOHN DOVIBROVIK, Portage.
JOHN INMAN, Cassandra.
JOHN PRESTASH, 32, Jamestown.
STEVE DOMAN, 32, Beaverdale.
ANDREW BOBROWCIZ, Portage.
EDWARD MANTEL, Ebensburg.
TED PITMAN, Portage.
PHILIP HUFFORD, 30, R. D. 1, Lilly.
JOHN METARKO, 35, Portage.
WALTER SZURA, JR., Portage.
JOHN MUTSKOVAK, Jamestown.
JOHN DUBULLS, Portage.
ANGELO CONCINO, Lilly.
ARTHUR McDONALD, 26, Portage.
FREEMAN GEORGE, Portage.
STEVE GAVALAK, Portage.
JOHN NOWOBELSKI, Cassandra.
JOHN SCHMENDAK, Portage.
GEORGE LUTZ, Sonman.
MELVIN OWEN, Wilmore.
STANLEY KOVALSHINSKI, Jamestown.
HOMER LEAP, 22, Cassandra.
THOMAS SHAW, Portage.
THOMAS LEAP, Cassandra.
CHESTER BRADLEY, 26, Cassandra.
MELVIN LEAP, Cassandra.
HORACE CHAPPEL, Portage.
Researched and Transcribed by Stu Beitler. Thank you, Stu!