LITTLE EGYPT LOST
WRECKAGE OF HAVACO MINE – JANUARY 15, 1946
McDowell County, West Virginia is the most southern county of the state, and they hold the record for the largest number of explosions in the state. The mining town of Jed, located two miles north of Welch, lost eighty-three men when the mine blew on March 26, 1912. The blast was blamed on an open-light. At that time, all miners wore open-lights on their mining hats. A flame from one of those lights ignited gas which set off “bug dust” causing the explosion.
Many of the men who died in the Jed Mine where foreign born without relatives in the states, and they had made few friends. The victims were laid to rest on a barren hillside graveyard called “Little Egypt.” The graves were never tended, and brush and trees soon hid any evidence of the burial ground.
Shortly after the explosion at the Jed Mine, the coal company changed the name of the mine to Havaco. By 1940 the miners who worked at the Havaco Mine believed it to be a safe place to work. The families who lived there liked the convenience of living near the city of Welch, and considered Welch High School a good school for their children.
Then on Tuesday, January 15, 1946 as the noon hour approached, the shaft mine at Havaco blew up again killing fiftteen men. The blast was so strong the earth shook, and the force broke every window pane in Havaco. Some of the doors flew off their hinges and went flying away from the air pressure. The explosion was deafening, and after the blast the noise of falling debris could be heard for several seconds. The roar was heard for miles around as far away as Bramwell.
For just a heartbeat after the explosion . . . all was silent. Then panic set in when the residents of Havaco rushed outside and looked toward the shaft. The hoisting tipple was blown away, the powderhouse destroyed, and the smokestack toppled over. Amid the confusion, the screams and cries of women and children were heard. There were two-hundred-sixty-seven men inside the mine, and they didn’t think anyone could survive the devastation that lay before them.
The fastest method for rescuing the injured and removing the dead was by rigging a hoist and attaching a muck bucket to a cable and lowering it into the blast-tore mine. The injured were brought up first, and taken by ambulances to local hospitals. Clarence Hale, age twenty-one, was found badly burned near his father’s body. Thirty-three other miners suffered burns. Clarence Hale and Lawrence Carper died in the hospital the next day. Several days later, Luther Tolley also died of his burns.
The men knew an explosion had occurred because the air pressure inside the mine became so intense they felt they were being squeezed by an invisible vise. The uninjured men started immediately walking to the shaft bottom.
As rescue teams and officials moved in the Red Cross and Salvation Army set up canteens to serve hot coffee, chocolate, and food to those in need.
Mine officials determined the blast had blown to the outside instead of shooting back into the workings of the mine. It was a dust explosion set off by an accumulation of methane gas. The mine had been well rock dusted the night before, so this kept the death toll down.
In less than two hours a1l the survivors were brought to the surface to join their anxious loved-ones. Some climbed to the top by a 250-foot spiral escape stairway near the main shaft. Other men, two and three at a time, rode a muck bucket to safety.
Finally, the dead with their limp bodies slumped in the round muck bucket which was four feet deep and three feet wide came eerily swinging and swirling up from the bowels of the earth like a pail of water from a hand-dug well.
Most of the miner’s homes were damaged, and in some cases there were no doors to keep out the January cold. So, they hung quilts, blankets, boards, tar paper, and cardboard over the open holes to stay warm. The company store, only a half mile away, was also in shambles. All the windows, including the big plate glass windows in the company store, were shattered by the blast. Canned goods, and hardware flew in every direction when the explosion hit, but luckily no one was in the store was seriously Injured.
None of the bodies were sent to the “Little Egypt” graveyard which after almost thirty-four years had become a hillside jungle. Instead, they were taken to Welch funeral homes to be prepared for burial. The relatives claimed the remains of their love ones, gave them a proper funeral, and laid them to rest in a cemetery of their choosing.
FIFTEEN VICTIMS OF HAVACO BLAST
List of the fifteen victims
|Belcher, Earl – mine foreman|
|Bell, Ernest M.|
|Gibson, James A.|
|Hale, Cleve – father of Clarence|
|Miller, Albert R. – assistant superintendent|
|Smith, John L.|
It was said that sixteen men died in the explosion, but the Bureau of Mines listed fifteen. Thirty-eight men were injured, and two-hundred-fifteen men narrowly escaped death.
Auguest 12, 2015 Addendum by Admin