“Oh, it was bad. The bodies of the victims were blown up unmercifully. I never did get over the memory, little children running up and asking if it was their daddy we were bringing out, women crying and screaming for their husbands. It was hard on your nerves.” Troy Phillips, rescuer, 1914 Eccles mine disaster.
Early fires and explosions in Raleigh and Fayette counties are now recalled only by few of the old-timers’ grandchildren, those who doubtless harkened wide-eyed to bloody accounts narrated by witnesses of the early 20th century misfortune and mayhem.
But the early disasters will live on in the minds of succeeding generations, to be sure, because of the human tragedy and destruction wrought by those bizarre calamities.
These historic fires produced heavy tolls.
The 1914 Eccles mine explosion, for instance, in which 183 men died, was the second greatest mining tragedy in the state’s history, according to the West Virginia Department of Mines.
It was second only to the Monongah explosion of Dec. 6, 1907, in which 361 miners were killed.
Two heavy blasts roared through the Eccles mine on April 28. Eight days later, rescue squads reported 183 men had died. There were no survivors.
One member of the 1914 West Virginia Rescue Team, called up on to help with the recovery operation at Eccles, lived to be 91 years old and often talked to reporters as the years passed on.
“It was bad, the worst tragedy that I had ever seen,” Troy Phillips of Oak Hill once told The Register-Herald in Beckley. “Bodies of the victims were blown up unmercifully, beyond all recognition.”
Phillips continued, “I never did get over the memory, little children running up and asking if it was their daddy we were bringing out, women crying and screaming for their husbands. It was hard on your nerves.”
Phillips, a veteran coal miner who started at age nine, working in all kinds of deep mines for some 55 years, kept up with newspaper accounts of the Eccles tragedy, a disaster believed to have been caused by gas.
According to reports, the first explosion occurred at 2:30 p.m. and was followed a few minutes later by a terrific dust blast.
Crews then reported no section of the mine escaped the explosion.
The concussion from the blast shattered windows in Beckley.
Tipple No 5 took the big part of the explosion, mine sources reported, but Tipple No. 6 also was damaged.
It was also reported that many of the mules, used in the mine in those days, were blown to the bottom of the shaft.
Two other explosions in Raleigh County claimed a total of 25 miners’ lives—the second Eccles explosion on March 8, 1926, in which 19 miners were killed, and the McAlpin blast of Oct. 22, 1908, which cost six lives.
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