1896 - NINETY MINERS DEAD. THE ROOF FELL UPON THE MEN WHILE PROPPING IT UP. MANY LEAVE FAMILIES.
ABOUT FORTY OF THE MEN WERE ENGLISH SPEAKING AND THE REST FOREIGNERS - MORE THAN TWO-THIRDS OF THE VICTIMS WERE MARRIED - THE WATER BOY TELLS A THRILLING TALE - THINKS THERE WAS AN EXPLOSION OF GAS - THE FALL SOUNDED LIKE THE REPORT OF CANNONS.
Wilkes-Barre, Pa., June 28. - While ninety miners were at work in the Red Ash vein of the Twin Shaft at Pittston, about 3 o'clock this morning, the roof caved in and it is believed that all of the men perished. About forty of the imprisoned men were English speaking miners, the others foreigners...
The men were at work propping up the roof when the fall occurred. The alarm was immediately given by the ringing of the fire bells, and rescuers were put to work without delay.
More than two-thirds of the victims were married men and leave families. Among them were Acting Mayor LANGAN, who was inside superintendent of the mine, and MICHAEL T. LYNOTT, a ward councilman.
About two weeks ago the surveyors reported to General Superintendent Law that the mine was squeezing and that unless steps were immediately taken to timber it, a cave-in or fall might be looked for.
Superintendent Law lost no time, but at once put a number of timbermen
at work to brace the falling roof. The "squeeze" continued, however, and yesterday the situation became alarming. In the afternoon a slight fall occurred, and the men who were at work had to retreat before it. A consultation of mine officials was then held, and it was decided that heroic measures would have to be resorted to to prevent heavy damage to the mine.
Inside Superintendent LANGAN gave instructions that the most experienced miners should be secured and that the party would go down the mine at 7 o'clock. Expert timbermen put in an appearance at that time and were soon lowered into the workings. They made their way to the Red Ash vein, 1,500 feet down the slope. The work of propping proceeded rapidly until 11 o'clock, when another fall occurred. It made a low, rumbling noise and the flying coal and debris drove the men back. Then the "squeeze" ceased again and the men thought it was safe to resume work. They labored on until 3:20 o'clock when, as it is presumed, the roof fell in without warning, making a tremendous crash.
It is supposed, however, that the men were not all together, but some were near the slope, and these probably ran up the incline when the fall occurred. This is the only way the finding of Mayor LANGAN'S body in the slope can be accounted for. If the men received any warning they had time to run up the slope, but not to any great distance. The falling rocks and coal filled up the slope and the adjoining gangways, completely shutting off all avenues of escape.
It was at first supposed that the men might have escaped being caught in the fall, and that they were imprisoned behind the debris, but the finding of the two bodies would go to disprove this. It is still possible, however, that living men may still be behind the fall, although it is extremely improbable. Even if they escaped being crushed by the falling roof, the possibility of their being alive for any length of time in a gaseous mine is remote.
The alarm was first given by Water Carrier John Sheridan, who with William Richard and Thomas Gill, were the only ones to escape of the whole party who entered the mine last night. He was on his way up the slope to get some fresh water for the men and, when about 100 feet from the foot of the shaft he was knocked down by the concussion. He was badly cut and burned by flying coal and rock. He lay unconscious for ten minutes and then came up the shaft.
The concussion was so great that it was heard for miles around. The foundations of nearly every building in Pittston were shaken and windows and doors rattled as in a tornado. In the houses nearer to the mine persons were thrown from their beds.
The first thought was that a great earthquake had occurred and the inhabitants rushed pell mell from their houses. The ringing of the fire bells and the shrieking of the big mine whistle told the story.
Crowds of people gathered about the mouth of the shaft and numbered thousands by daybreak. Stalwart men stood appalled and frantic women, who had husbands or sons in the doomed mine, waited in despair. One mother cried out that she had two sons below. Another was the wife or widow of some unfortunate and had nine helpless children at home. Many knelt on the ground, and in voices broken with sobs implored Divine Providence to restore their loved ones alive.
When it was given out that there was little or no hope of rescuing the men alive, women and girls fainted and were borne away senseless.
The work of rescue was prompt and efficient. The best miners who remained on the surface joined voluntarily in the hazardous task - for hazardous it certainly was. There was a constance menace of another fall or an explosion of fire damp. Special efforts were made to keep the air fan in good order, so, that if by chance the men were alive, they should have fresh air to breathe.
The blocked slope and gangways held out little hope of the air reaching them. The rescuers were divided into three relays of forty men each, under the direction of the mine foreman, Alex. McMullin. The men worked as they had never before worked, clearing away the debris in the slope with the energy that only springs of the knowledge of dear lives behind it.
They made good headway, considering the difficulties they had to contend with, and at 3 o'clock this afternoon had cleared the slope a distance of 600 feet.
Activity brought encouragement, but when the first clearance was made, it revealed a sight that dispelled all hope. Under the mass of rock lay the bodies of LANGAN and LYNOTT. A damper fell upon the work of the rescuers. They had been working for life and had found death. Still, the hope remained that others of the men might be penned in somewhere and that they would yet have the satisfaction of finding them alive.
At 2 o'clock this afternoon it became necessary to swear in extra policemen to control the crowd around the mouth of the shaft. It had increased to fully 7,000. Ropes were stretched around the shaft and only mine officials were allowed to enter the enclosure.
Young Sheridan, the water boy who had such a narrow escape, tells a thrilling tale of the disaster. He thinks there was an explosion of gas which blew down the newly erected timbers and caused the cave-in. When he left the mine to go out to the slope and get water, those inside had no apprehension of a fall or a "squeeze." Everything was working nicely and the men expected to be out of the mine within another hour.
"The report of the fall," says the boy, "was like a hundred cannon, and the force of it blew me fully twenty-five feet. I was hurled against the side of the slope. A piece of rock hit me back of the head, the wound commenced to bleed, and then I fainted."
Richards and Gill, who were on their way out after timber, concur with Sheridan that the concussion was terrific. They were knocked off their feet and banged against some brattice work. They cannot conceive the possibility of anybody being in the wreck and escaping with his life.
Superintendent Law says: "Nobody regrets this dreadful occurrence more than I do. It is too early yet to give any reason as to the cause of the accident, but I can assure you that if I thought there was any danger in the work undertaken by the men, not a single one of them would have been allowed to enter the mine with my permission. I do not care for the damage to the mine. It is the great loss of life that gives me so much sorrow."
The breaker of the Twin shaft burned down three years ago. There were over 100 men in the mine at the time, but all escaped through a second opening.
The first great disaster in the anthracite region was in September, 1869, when 120 men perished in the Avondale mine, this county. The breaker over the mine caught fire and all the men in the mine were suffocated. This great catastrophe caused the legislature to pass a law compelling mines to have two openings. But when a cave-in occurs in a mine and the men are surrounded on every side by debris it makes little difference how many openings there may be. They cannot escape, even if spared by the fall.
The report that two bodies have been found in the mine was proved tonight to have been premature. Up to 9 o'clock no bodies have been found. At that hour all hope of finding any person alive had been abandoned.
Superintendent Lathrop, of the Lehigh Valley Coal company, who is an authority, says it will be ten days before the bodies are reached.
During the late hours of the afternoon the searchers made but little progress, because the part of the slope upon which their energies were bent was "working."
The heaviest timbers were like straws under the heavy pressure from above.
At 11 o'clock tonight the situation at the ill-fated mine was unchanged. The rescuers were hard at work but are making little progress. The reported recovery of two bodies proves to have been erroneous.
June 29, 1896
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