25 Killed in West Virginia Coal Mine Blast

Massey Energy Company has confirmed 25 fatalities and four missing after an explosion at its Upper Big Branch mine Monday.

The huge underground explosion, reportedly caused by methane gas, is the worst U.S. mining disaster in more than two decades.

Crews bulldozed an access road today so they could drill 1,000 feet into the earth to try to find the four missing and feared dead. Rescuers were held back by poison gases that accumulated near the blast site, about 1.5 miles from the entrance to the mine.

Massey Energy said the search will resume as soon as conditions allow.

The blast occurred around 3 p.m. at the company’s mine in Raleigh County, W. Va., 30 miles south of Charleston. The mine has a history of violations for not properly ventilating the highly combustible methane, safety officials said.

"West Virginia is in mourning today,” said Representative Nick J. Rahall II on location at the mine, which is in his district. “Twenty-five of its hard-working, courageous miners have been lost and we are bound together with their families, friends, neighbors, and coworkers in grief, while we continue to hope and pray for survivors. I want to know why this tragedy happened; there will be a thorough investigation. We will seek answers about the cause of this disaster. We will look for inadequacies in the law and enforcement practices, and I will work to fix any we find. We will scrutinize the health and safety violations at this mine to see whether the law was circumvented and miners’ precious lives were willfully put at risk, and there will be accountability.”

Massey Chairman and CEO Don Blankenship is on site at the Upper Big Branch mine. Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Chris Adkins and Vice President of Safety & Health, Elizabeth Chamberlin, are coordinating Massey's search and rescue efforts with state and federal officials.

"Tonight we mourn the deaths of our members at Massey Energy," Blankenship said Monday. "I want to offer my condolences to the miners' families who lost loved ones at Upper Big Branch. And I want to thank the rescue teams and the Massey members who continue to work hard on behalf of our miners and their families."

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

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