With the death toll in this week’s Turkish coal-mine explosion continuing to rise, a look at some of the world’s worst mining disasters.
China, 1942. Deaths: 1,549
The Benxihu colliery disaster occurred on April 26, 1942, in the Honkeiko coal mine, located near Benxi in the Liaoning province of China.
The fatal explosion of the underground coal mine was caused by a mixture of gas and coal dust. The fire exploded out of the mine shaft entrance.
The ventilation system was shut off and the pit head was sealed by the mine operator to deprive the underground of oxygen. An electric fence was erected around the pit to obstruct the entry of miners' relatives.
France, 1906. Deaths: 1,099
The Courrières mine disaster in France, with a total death toll of 1,099, is the second deadliest coal mining disaster in history. The catastrophe occurred on March 10, 1906, because of a massive explosion sparked by an underground fire in one of the pits of the Courrieres Colliery.
The fire was detected around 270 metres underground the day before the explosion. The outlets of the pit were closed to starve the fire of oxygen.
The next morning a huge explosion emanated from the still-smouldering fire at the pit and caused a blast on the surface. Workers inside the mine's deep tunnels, as well as people on the surface, were killed in the disaster.
Japan, 1914. Deaths: 687
The Mitsubishi Hojyo coal mine disaster, the deadliest mining accident in Japan, caused 687 deaths. It was caused by a gas explosion at the mine located in the island of Kyushu. The disaster took place on December 15, 1914.
The gas explosion, which occurred underground, caused thick black smoke to come gushing out of the air vents before it finally blew the elevator cage 15 metres into the air with a massive blast. People within a 200-metre radius of the mine entrance were also impacted by the explosion.
China, 1960. Deaths: 684
The Laobaidong Colliery Disaster, the second deadliest in China after the Benxihu colliery disaster, killed 684 people. The disaster occurred May 9, 1960 in the Laobaidong coal mine, located near Datong in the Shanxi province of China.
The accident was caused by a methane explosion. Information was suppressed by the Chinese government for more than three decades, until it was revealed in 1992. The Laobaidong disaster is the most fatal coal mine disaster since the inception of the People's Republic of China in 1949.
Japan, 1963. Deaths: 458
The Mitsui Miike coal mine explosion on Nov. 9, 1963, was the second deadliest coal mining disaster in Japan after the Mitsubishi Hojyo Coal Mine Disaster in 1914. Four hundred fifty-eight miners were killed in the accident and 833 were injured.
It was triggered by a coal-dust explosion about 500 metres below the mine's ground-level entrance. The explosion led to a massive blast, which collapsed the tunnel roof at multiple locations. Most of the deaths were due to carbon-monoxide poisoning.
Most of the poisoned survivors suffered severe brain damage. Miike was one of the oldest and largest coal mines in Japan. It was taken over by Mitsui in 1899. The coal mine ceased its operations in 1997.
Notable in Canada: 1992. Deaths: 26
The Westray Mine disaster occurred at a coal mine in Plymouth, N.S., May 9, 1992. Approximately eight months after the mine was opened by Curragh Resources Inc., with assistance from both the federal and provincial governments, an underground methane explosion killed all 26 miners working underground at the time.
A public inquiry found that the mine had been mismanaged and miners’ safety ignored, and it cited poor regulatory oversight in pinpointing the causes for the disaster. The company went bankrupt and the mine was permanently sealed in 1998.
CONTRAST: Chile, 2010. Deaths: 0
The Copiapó mining accident was a rarity: a mining-accident story with a happy ending. On Aug. 5, 2010, a cave-in at the San Jose copper/gold mine deep in the Atacama Desert trapped 33 miners about 700 metres underground, more than 5 kilometres from the mine’s entrance.
The mine had a troubled history of fines, deaths, accidents and safety violations, prompting little hope that the trapped men would be found alive. Nonetheless, the men survived a record 69 days underground, and were eventually rescued in reasonably good health by a winching operation Oct. 13, 2010.
Sources: mining-technology.com, Globe Editorial Research
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