Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Twelve W. Va. Miners Found Alive

Tragically, only one miner is alive and twelve are dead

In a fortitutious turn of events, the majority of miners in West Virginia who were buried by a mining disaster have been found alive. 12 people are alive, but one miner perished in the explosion, which has caused much 'fingerpointing'.

Mining is at least 43,000 years old. The oldest known mine is the "Lion Cave" in Swaziland, which was a haematite mine, used to produce ochre. Mining disasters are still common even in these safety-conscious times. Barely a year goes by without hearing of mining disasters in the mines of Bihar and West Bengal in India. Often enough, poor safety records of the mines are to blame. Antiquated equipment and uncertain weather are other causes.

Mining disasters have some sort of grotesque horror associated with them - the womb-like terror of being trapped underground is surely a reasonable phobia, and we can easily picture ourselves in the place of the miners, unlike say, other disasters like shipwrecks or volcanic eruptions, which seem cinematic in description.

As the MSHA notes,

Historically, large-scale mine disasters have stirred the fires of reform and provided the impetus for legislation to provide the miner with a safer working place.

Thus, it happened in 1907 when the Fairmont Coal Company's mine at Monongah, West Virginia exploded killing 362 men and boys. Congress reacted to the disaster at Monongah by passing and toughening mining laws.

In 1910, following a decade in which the number of coal mine fatalities exceeded 2,000 annually, Congress established the Bureau of Mines as a new agency in the Department of the Interior. The Bureau was charged with the responsibility to conduct research and to reduce accidents in the coal mining industry.
A celebrated song of the Bee Gees brings home some of the thoughts miners might endure in their tense times underground when things go wrong.

Have you seen my wife, Mr. Jones?
Do you know what it's like on the outside?
Don't go talking too loud, you'll cause a landslide, Mr. Jones.

I keep straining my ears to hear a sound.
Maybe someone is digging underground,
or have they given up and all gone home to bed,

thinking those who once existed must be dead.

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