- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 20, 2006

HOLMES MILL, Ky. (AP) — An explosion in an eastern Kentucky coal mine killed five miners yesterday, Gov. Ernie Fletcher said. A sixth miner was able to walk away from the blast and out of the mine on his own.

The blast at the Darby Mine No. 1 in Harlan County occurred between midnight and 1 a.m. while a maintenance shift was on duty, said Amy Louviere, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). It was the latest in a string of mine accidents to hit U.S. coal country this year.

The five dead miners were found by rescue workers, the governor said. The rescue teams initially found three dead workers and later found two more, he said.

Mr. Fletcher said he had contacted the families of the workers.

“They want answers — how, why, what caused it — that will help them deal with it a little more,” he said.

Authorities identified the victims as Amon Brock, 51, of Closplint, Ky.; Jimmy D. Lee, of Wallins Creek, Ky.; Roy Middleton, 35, of Evarts, Ky.; George William Petra, of Kenvir, Ky.; and Paris Thomas Jr., also of Evarts. The ages of Mr. Lee, Mr. Petra and Mr. Thomas were not available.

Mary Middleton said her husband had been working in the mines since he was 18.

“He thought about coming out of the mines but we have two kids,” she said. “It was a job to make a living.”

Denise Bean, stepdaughter of Amon Brock, said he came from a family of miners.

“Mining is all he’s ever done,” she said. “It was his life.”

The survivor, identified as Paul Ledford, was taken to Lonesome Pine Hospital in Big Stone Gap, Va., where he was treated and released, hospital spokeswoman Amy Stevens said.

Mr. Fletcher said Mr. Ledford was closer to the mine’s exit than his co-workers.

It was not clear how many workers were on duty when the blast occurred, but Miss Louviere said no production was going on at the time.

The mine, operated by Kentucky Darby LLC, is located about 250 miles southeast of Louisville in a mountainous area near the Virginia state line. A man who answered the phone at a Kentucky Darby office declined to comment yesterday, saying the company was too busy.

Since Kentucky Darby took over as operator in May 2001, there had been no deaths at the mine until yesterday’s explosion and 10 injuries, according to statistics on MSHA’s Web site.

United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts urged state and federal mine officials to “redouble their inspection and enforcement activities, starting now.”

“This tragedy only compounds what has already been a horrific year in America’s coal mines,” Mr. Roberts said.

Mine safety issues have been a key concern of lawmakers since two accidents in January killed 14 West Virginia coal miners.

Last month, Kentucky passed new mine safety legislation that is scheduled to take effect in July.

Earlier this week, a Senate committee endorsed a bill to make coal mining safer. The legislation would require miners to have at least two hours of oxygen available instead of one and would require mine operators to store extra oxygen packs along escape routes.

The bill also would require mines to have two-way wireless communications and tracking systems in place within three years. It now goes to the full Senate.

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