West Virginia mine blast kills 12 with 10 missing

* Accident one of deadliest in U.S. in years

* Mine has history of many safety violations

By Joe Rauch

MONTCOAL, West Virginia, April 6 (BestGrowthStock) – Rescuers raced
to find 10 coal miners missing deep underground after an
explosion killed 12 of their colleagues on Monday at a West
Virginia mine owned by Massey Energy (MEE.N: ).

The accident at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, also
known as Whitesville, was one of the deadliest at a U.S. coal
mine in recent years. The mine, owned by Massey’s Performance
Coal subsidiary, is about 30 miles (48 km) south of the state
capital, Charleston.

Mine officials said the death toll rose to 12 after
rescuers discovered five bodies more underground in addition to
seven dead reported earlier.

“There are 10 men that we’re looking for right now,” Kevin
Striklin of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration told
a news conference at the mine. “We are focused on getting in
there as quickly as possible.

Mine officials said there were two underground emergency
centers stocked with food, water and enough air to survive for
four days. Rescuers are heading toward these shelters and hope
to reach them within a few hours.

“We want to assure the families of all the miners we are
taking every action possible to locate and rescue those still
missing,” said Massey’s CEO Don Blankenship.

Rescuers included officials from state and federal mine
safety agencies and first responders from all levels of
government, said Leslie Fitzwater, a spokeswoman for the West
Virginia Department of Commerce.

West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin called the news
“devastating” and offered support to the miners’ relatives.

“For those families who are still waiting for news on their
missing loved ones, I want them to know that we are doing
everything possible in cooperation with federal officials and
the company to get our miners out as quickly and safely as
possible,” Manchin said on his website.

Manchin, who said he had spoken with President Barack Obama
about the disaster, was headed to the mine site was due to meet
with the miners’ families.

Massey, headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, is the largest
coal producer in Central Appalachia with operations in West
Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia.

In after-hours trading, Massey shares were at $51.90, down
5.1 percent from the closing price of $54.69 on the New York
Stock Exchange.

ACCIDENT RATE

Massey said on its website its accident rate fell to an
all-time low for the company in 2009. It said its safety record
last year was stronger than the industry average for the sixth
consecutive year.

But, according to federal records, the Upper Big Branch
Mine has had three fatalities since 1998 and has a worse than
average injury rate over the last 10 years. Two of the miners
died in roof collapses in 1998 and 2001, while a third was
electrocuted in 2003 when repairing an underground car.

Ellen Smith, the editor of Mine Safety and Health News,
said the Upper Big Branch mine had been repeatedly cited for
safety violations going back years.

The mine, which employs just over 200 people, extracts coal
using the “longwall mining” method in which a rotating shearer
tears coal from a lengthy face, leading the ground behind it to
collapse. Critics say the method may cause surface subsidence
and damage to buildings.

In the worst coal mine disaster in U.S. history, 362 miners
died in an explosion in 1906 in the Monongah mine, also in West
Virginia.

In January 2006, 12 miners died after an explosion in the
Sago Mine, run by International Mines Corp in Tallsmansville,
West Virginia, according to the U.S. Mine Rescue Association.
In 2007, nine miners died in a collapse of the Crandall Canyon
Mine in Utah.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said it
was notified of the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine at
about 3:30 p.m. EDT (1930 GMT) on Monday and that rescue
efforts were underway.

Investment Advice

(Reporting by Jon Hurdle in Philadelphia and Chris Wilson in
Washington; Writing by John O’Callaghan and Chris Wilson)

West Virginia mine blast kills 12 with 10 missing