Last week, heavy rainfall downed trees and power lines across the state. It also flooded a coal mine in southeastern Kentucky, trapping three men underground.
Early last Monday morning James River Coal’s Jellico #1 Mine was nearly empty. It was between shifts, and the only people in the mine were three men doing maintenance work. But when a tree fell nearby and broke a retaining system, water from a drainage ditch flooded the mine.
The men were able to walk out after about 13 hours and the mining company wasn’t cited for any violations. Bill Bissett of the Kentucky Coal Association says he was encouraged by the way the situation was handled.
“I think it’s challenging work and these are the kind of contingencies that we plan for,” he said. “But I think this emergency response and the fact that these three gentlemen were able to walk out under their own power and also communicate safely with their families really speaks, I think, to the current condition of mining in Kentucky.”
Bissett says the mine rescue went perfectly, with cooperation between federal and state agencies, as well as the coal company. But he says usually there are lessons to be learned from accidents—even those that stem from a combination of natural events.
“We do mine coal in the real world and we do have to consider these kinds of natural factors that go on around us,” he said. “At the same time, a safe mine is a productive mine.”
The mine is in Bell County at the southeastern tip of the state and is operated by Bell County Coal.