- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2001

BROOKWOOD, Ala. (AP) Ten coal miners are being hailed as heroes for rushing into a mine to rescue co-workers injured by an explosion, only to be killed themselves by a second blast.
The death toll was confirmed at 13 yesterday, making Sunday's disaster the nation's worst mining accident since Dec. 19, 1984, when fire killed 27 coal miners near Orangeville, Utah.
Search teams were at the mine yesterday, but because of fires more than 2,000 feet beneath the surface and high levels of explosive methane gas in some tunnels, they could not look for the bodies of the remaining miners.
"I wish I could tell you rescue teams were in and everything was wonderful," said mine spokesman Dennis Hall. "They are just here on standby."
The 10 who were lost after going into the mine after their co-workers were praised for their selflessness, drawing comparisons to the rescue workers killed in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.
"These men gave their lives to help others, just as the firefighters and police of New York did nearly two weeks ago," said Don DeFosset, chief executive of Walter Industries, which owns the mine and its operator, Jim Walter Resources Inc.
One of the would-be rescuers died of burns at a hospital on Monday, and the other nine were confirmed dead yesterday by the company. The three miners they were trying to help also died in the mine.
The first explosion occurred when rocks loosened in a roof collapse hit a large battery charger, causing sparks, the company said. The cause of the second explosion was under investigation.
The first blast hit miners with a storm of loose rock and debris.
"I had just gotten a drink of water and walked out into the entry, and the next thing I knew I felt like I was in a tornado," one of the injured miners told the Tuscaloosa News.
The blasts happened about 45 minutes apart Sunday evening at the Blue Creek No. 5 mine, known for high concentrations of methane.
It is the deepest vertical-shaft coal mine in North America, with operations at 2,140 feet beneath the surface, the company says.
The company said 32 persons were in the mine performing maintenance work when the first explosion occurred. Six miners were near the blast; three escaped and were hospitalized, but the other three were left inside, more than three miles from the main elevator.
Part of the mine will be flooded to extinguish fires, and the dead won't be able to be recovered for at least six days, officials said.
Nearly all the 1,500 residents of Brookwood work in a mine or have relatives or friends who do.
"We've never had anything like this happen before," said Linda Barger, the town clerk. "There are a lot of children who are going to be affected."
Miner William Prisock said he knows all but three or four of those missing. The mine, he said, "is one of the best there is. But if something happens, there's nothing you can do about it."
It was the latest in a series of accidents for Jim Walter Resources. Last month, a construction worker was killed in a fall at a coal-processing plant. The No. 5 Mine was the site of a blast in 1993 in which four workers were seriously burned, and it was closed in 1995 because of "hot spots," or areas of spontaneous heating.

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