Raleigh News & Observer -- May 28, 1925

The Coal Glen Mining Disaster
Farmville, Chatham County, N.C.
May 27, 1925

NEWS & OBSERVER
Raleigh, NC
May 28, 1925


MORE THAN 40 MEN ENTOMBED
Fear That All Perished In Mine
Explosions Near Sanford

WITH SHAFT WRECKED BY BLASTS
AND FIRE RAGING, RESUCE CREWS
DESPAIR OF FINDING THEM ALIVE

Only Six Bodies Recovered
Nearly Twelve Hours After
First Explosion
THIRTY-EIGHT OTHER
MEN ARE DEFINITELY
ACCOUNTED IN MINE

Shaft Blocked By Two Tons
Of Rock Twelve Hundred
Feet From Entrance Just
Beyond Point Where Six
Bodies Were Recovered;
More Than Five Thousand
Persons Gathered About
Roped Off Enclosure
At Mouth Of Mine; Will Be
Sometime Today Before
This Obstruction Is Cleared

by Ben Dixon McNeil
Staff Correspondent

     Sanford, May 27.--Two score men were trapped eight hundred feet under ground in the Carolina Coal Mine nine miles from here today when three successive explosions of gas [blocked] the shaft blocking escape and none among the mining experts who are directing the rescue work holds out the faintest hope that any of them will be removed alive.

     Twelve hundred feet from the mouth of the slanting shaft into the mine a handful of relief men worked feverishly with a mountain of crumbled slate and timber.  Beyond the wall of debris of fire rages, and the thousands who wait silently about the mouth of the shaft wonder what else goes on beneath the quiet earth beneath their feet.

     Six of the men are known to be dead and their bodies were brought out at 8 o’clock tonight.   Superintendent Howard Butler who rushed into the shaft immediately after the first explosion saw them caught there beneath the tangled mass of slate and timber.  A second explosion shook the mine and the young superintendent was scarcely able to fight his way back before a third and final detonation closed the throat of the shaft and hid the men from his sight.

     Tonight rescue workers are attacking twenty tons of rock which block the shaft just beyond the point where the first bodies were recovered.   While the bodies removed showed some signs of burns, it appears that they were killed by falling rock.

     The six men whose bodies were brought to the surface tonight and sent to a Sanford undertaking establishment were:

     White: A. L. Holland, W. E. Byerly, Hollis Richardson, and Zeff Rimer.

     Colored: Will Irick and one other unidentified.

     An incomplete list checked over by mine officials tonight establish for a surety the identity of thirty eight other men who are now entombed.  There may be others.

Known Entombed.

     The white men are:

     Reuben Chambliss, Sam Napier, H. C. Hall, Dan Hudson, N. E. Dillingham, W. D. Dillingham, H. W. Sullivan, N. R. Johnson, J. S. Hammett, G. Anderson, A. F. Martin, D. J. Wilson, C. V. Johnson, Joe Hudson, J. E. Laubscher, A. L. Stokes, C. R. Davis, John B. Curd, C. L. Woods, F. S. Anderson.

     The negroes are:

     T. D. Wright, Lee Buchanan, A. Williams, John Burgess, John Shaw, John Watson, David Barr, June Cotton, Jim Spruill, John Alston, Julius Cotton, Henry Alston, Wesley Howard, Sed Clegg, T. N. Wright James Wright, Will Moore, Lee Hodge.

     Relief measures immediately instituted by John R. McQueen, president of the Carolina Coal Company, sent the first exploring party late into the mine.  They returned to report that the shaft was closed at 1,000 feet from the entrance.  The fans were set to work and through the ventilator shaft came surges of gas from the explosion.  After an hour the air from the mine cleared somewhat but there is little hope that the air is reaching the miners who were working in remote pockets.

     Sanford immediately organized relief forces and the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary established a first aid station at the mouth of the shaft and took up the vigil that may not require their services before noon tomorrow.  It is impossible to tell when the first bodies will be brought to the surface.  Relief sent here from Fort Bragg this afternoon included hospital supplies, ambulances, and a detachment of men for patrol duty.

     Massed around the roped in enclosure are the silent hundreds who make up the families of the entombed men.  As yet no complete list has been made of the men who entered the mine this morning.  It was the day shift, each man wearing a number.  Twenty of the men known to be entombed now are white and nineteen are Negroes.  Almost all of them are young men, sons of families that have lived in this section for generations.

     They await there quietly, numbed by the unthinkable horror that lies beneath their feet.  They stare at the yawning hole down which their kin went to work this morning.  They whisper together in hopeless monotones and wait.  There is no hope among them anywhere.  Aged mothers stare with dry eyes and little children tug a their skirts.  Beyond then eddies a vast assemblage of people who come hundreds of miles to see a tragedy.

Yawning Black Mouth.

     And there is no tragedy to see.  Nothing but the yawning black mouth of the shaft in the center of the roped enclosure.  Every two hours a car is it dragged up from the bottom of the pet, and blackened figures tumbled all others take their place and the car slips back into the earth.   The men are a fairly exiles did, sickened by the gases that surge of proud and directed by some of the shaft.

     From the bottom comes little upon which hope it can be built.  The men mutter wearily that there is nothing to report.  The piles of slate and timber are still across the shaft blocking the way to the entombed men below.  It is a slow and heartbreaking task.  Only six men can have room to work at the mountain that, could anxious hearts move it, would melt away as a mist.  Beyond the entombed men, and none can know whether they have the been seared by fire, crushed by falling stone or choked by the vaporous death that lurks everywhere beneath the earth.

Five Thousand People.

     At nightfall five thousand people were massed about the shaft of the mine, waiting silently for tidings from the depths of the earth.  The single road that comes from the outside is choked hopelessly by their automobiles, and the heavens are obscured by their dust.  One hundred troops sent over from Fort Bragg by General Bowley, under command of Major W.  a.   Burr, were placed at the disposal of Sheriff Walter Blair for patrol duty.

First Explosion.

     The first of the explosions order was heard at 9:40 this morning.  Young Butler instantly called to men working beyond the 1,800 foot level by the mine telephone.  They answered that things at that level were all right and that the explosion was apparently nearer the point where the shaft spreads out like the fingers of a hand.  Communication was maintained for a few minutes and no casualties were reported.

     Going immediately to the shaft Butler descended to the 1,200 foot level where progress was blocked by fallen stone and crushed timber.  Underneath the debris were six men, some of whom were still alive.  Ten minutes after the first explosion, the second detonation rocked the mine, partially filling the shaft behind the superintendent, and the third barely allowed him to escape.   He was in a state of collapse from poison gases and shock when he climbed out of the mine.

     Accompanying him on his explorations was Joe Richardson, who was not too far down the shaft when the second explosion came.  He reached the surface in safety.  Within half an hour [search] parties were ready to enter the mine and the first reports reached the surface before 11:00 o’clock.  Twelve hours was estimated is the time required to clear out the shift to the point where the first bodies are known to be.  Butler did not recognize any of the man entombed.  They were blackened with grime.  He himself is now in a Sanford hospital.

     Experts here differ as to the cause of the explosion.  Some gas was observed in the mine at all levels during the past few days and precautions were ordered against it by President McQueen.   The test of the air late yesterday was reassuring and the tests this morning were not alarming.   The general opinion is that gas formations are responsible for the disaster.

Deadlier Than Gas.

     Other experts are of the opinion that coal dust caused the explosion.  Coal dust, they point out, is ten times more deadly than gas, and more widespread in its affects.  The recurrence of the explosions is held by some of the authorities to indicate dust as the basis of the detonations that wrecked the mine.  Differ as they may on the causes, that is little difference among them as to the improbability that any man will come out of it alive.

     The shaft enters the earth at an angle of 45 degrees, and extends for 2,300 feet at that angle under the earth.  The first coal is encountered at about 1,000 feet.  From that point the mine branches out in countless labyrinthine passages into pockets were the men were working.  There the seam of coal is from two to five thick.  The mine is wired for electricity and has a system of naked signal wires.  The miners caps are lighted by electricity from storage batteries strapped to their backs.

     Circulation of air through the countess chambers of the mine is obtained by a system of bulkheads built so as to direct the current.  Doors are thrown up with rock and here and there are placed fabric curtains to divert the currents.  Indications to Mr.  Butler were that these bulkheads and doors had been blown out by the force of the explosion and that circulation of air is exceedingly problematical.

Fans at capacity.

     The great fans that suck air out of the mine through a direct shaft were whirling at capacity this afternoon and standing in the shaft of the mine there was a strong current of air entering.

     Miners had little hopes that it was doing more than flow through the shaft and out to the air drain shaft, without deflection into the pockets where the men were trapped.  Some hope was felt that there might not be extensive fire in the mine.  Little was escaping, but it is generally believed of the main shift beyond the 1,200 foot level is burning slowly, which will vastly increase the work of the miners after the openings are cleared.  It will be well into the night before it can be definitely determined whether fire has been added to the already agonizing fate of the entombed minors.

     State Highway Commissioner Frank Page arrived here at 3:00, coming at the direction of Governor McLean to report personally what steps should be taken for relief.  Mr. Page drove the sixty miles in seventy minutes.  He conferred briefly with Mr. McQueen, learning the little that was to be learned.  He returned to Raleigh, leaving Charles G. Farmer behind to lend whatever assistance he can and to keep him in touch with developments.  Arriving shortly after was Major Burr, who was sent at the request of Governor McLean.  Three hospital relief trucks were sent with him, and five truck loads of troops to assist in the patrol work.  Sheriff Blair had the patrol well organized before outside help came.  Adjutant General Metts arrived late this afternoon, and after him, Frank D. Grist, Commissioner of Labor and Printing, whose department has the supervision of the mines of the state.

     Relief work has been handicapped to some extent by the absence of gas masks.  The equipment on hand is obsolete and of no use.  Rescue volunteers have worked on short shifts in the gas filled the shaft, and come up for relief.  Expert relief is being rushed here from Washington on a special train and is due to arrive sometime tonight.  Another crew is on the way here from the Alabama coal fields.

     The men who are now trapped in the mine went down at 7 o’clock this morning, and shortly after they went in, the night shift, which is in charge of cleaning up the mine, and making it safe for operation, came to surface.  They reported nothing out of the ordinary, and no intimation was expressed by them that trouble might be experienced in the mine.  The night shift goes on at 1 o’clock in the morning.


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