Thursday, August 16, 2007

Corbett Recalls Mining Nightmare

WITH THE HOPES of any survivors in the Huntington, Utah coal mine collapse ebbing into darkness and Thursday night's heartbreaking situation, it brought back a series of nightmares for me. For you see, my uncle, Carl Linkletter, a seasoned coal miner was killed in one of those dark dungeons, and another uncle, Lamont, was seriously injured in another one, this time in the infamous Springhill disaster of 1958.
Some time ago, I wrote, in part, about those devastating events:
Carl Linkletter at age 43 had everything to live for. He and his wife, Aggie, were expecting their third child.
As a coal miner, it was his job that day in January, 1943, to lay dynamite to bring down a "wall" in the Strathcona Coal Mine at River Hebert, a small community near Springhill, Nova Scotia.
However, it was to be a fatal morning, for Linkletter's "helper" apparently erred in wiring the dynamite sticks and the blast struck Linkletter with such a force that it caused enormous facial damage and "blew out his ears, his eyes, and the only thing left was his throat."
One of his last words were "take care of my two babies." And then he died.
Fifteen years later on Oct. 23, 1958, Carl's younger brother, Lamont, had just finished his shift at the Springhill coal mines when an "enormous bump" shook the small town at 8:06 p.m.
In the aftermath, 75 were killed and some 99 rescued from that deep pit.
Among the severely injured was Lamont Linkletter, one of the rescuers called "Draegermen."
Lamont and his crew went back down the shaft and one of the coal wall planks fell and hit him on the head. The force was so intense that it knocked Linkletter's right eye out.
In the following years, my uncle, Lamont, suffered intense "phantom pain" from losing his eye and would constantly see flashes of penetrating "bright lights."
Besides the world-wide publicity surrounding the Springhill disaster of 1958, there were others in the small community such as the one in 1956 and an even earlier one in 1891. Following the third disaster in 1958, DOSCO shut down their mining operations in Springhill and they were never reopened.
Today the mines, among the deepest works in the world and filled with water, provide Springhill's industrial park with a source of geothermal heat, according to al disaster website. It also provided information that Irish rock star U2 brought attention to the 1958 disaster when they performed Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger's The Ballad of Springhill as part of their world-famous The Joshua Tree tour in 1987.
In the Nov. 1, 1956 disaster, which killed 39 with 88 being rescued, several cars of a mine train, hauling a load of fine coal dust to the surface, broke loose and ran back down the slope of the No. 4 colliery, derailing and hitting a power line. It caused a massive explosion.
Two years later came another major disaster.
It occurred in the No. 2 colliery with the enormous "bump" severely impacting "the middle of the three walls that were being mined and the ends of the four levels nearest the walls."
In explaining a "bump" it is caused "when coal is totally removed from a strata and the resulting geological stresses upon surrounding bedrock (shale, sandstone, etc. -- in most coal-bearing strata) can cause the surrounding pillars of the galleries to suddenly catastrophically disintegrate and the shaft collapses."
The small earthquake sent shock waves throughout the world as the disaster was the first major international event to be televised live on the CBC and even Prince Philip, who was visiting Ottawa at the time, as well as then-Nova Scotia premier Robert Stanfield came to the "wake" over a seven-day period.
In her book, Last Man Out: The Story of the Springhill Mine Disaster, Melissa Fay Greene, wrote: "From an oceanic depth, a ball of fiery gas threw off its stone layers, like a feverish child in the night angrily kicking off his covers. The deepest stone floor rose faster than an elevator. It smashed into the floor above it, and the two, stacked together, hurtling up into a third, like granite dominos falling forward. The stone-and-lumber pillars ... built by the miners to support the roofs over their head, were clapped to smithereens in an instant by the force from below."
Then she added: "At 8:06, a deep, powerful BOOM! sounded, shaking every building and street in town. Everyone in Springhill lurched at the same instant. The wetly combed children sitting cross-legged on the floor in their pajamas jumped like the hiccups and looked to their parents ... One hundred seventy-four miners were working underground when "the bump" happened. Seventy-five never came out. Of the 99 who escaped, 18 of them did only after surviving for an incomprehensible nine days in absolute, pitch-black night."
One of those "survivors" was my uncle, Lamont Linkletter. He died of natural causes in December 1988.

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