Monday, April 5, 2010

6 Dead, 21 Missing In W. Va. Coal Mine Blast

Six miners were killed and at least 21 unaccounted for Monday in an explosion at an underground coal mine, the state mining director said.

The blast was reported around 3 p.m. at Massey Energy Co.'s Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County, about 30 miles south of Charleston. The company did not provide details on the extent of the damage or if other miners had been rescued. A Boone County ambulance dispatcher also said he has the same number of fatalities and missing miners.

One injured miner is in intensive care at Charleston Area Medical Center, spokeswoman Elizabeth Pellegrin said.

Five highly trained mine rescue teams from Conso Energy and Massey were on the scene as well as part of the state Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training team, MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere said.

The mine is operated by Massey subsidiary Performance Coal Co. It has caches of extra oxygen along emergency escape routes and airtight refuge chambers designed to provide enough air to keep miners alive for four days if they can't make their way out, according to Randy Harris, an engineering consultant who oversees installation of high-tech gear.

The large mine produced 1.2 million tons of coal in 2009, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, and has about 200 employees, most of whom work underground. They would not have all been working the same shift.

Gov. Joe Manchin was out of town, but working to get back, according to his office. Chief of Staff Jim Spears was headed to the mine.

At least three fatalities have happened at the mine in the past dozen years.

In 1998, a worker was killed when a support beam collapsed, dumping bags of cement mix and other materials onto the man, according to a report from the federal Mine Safety & Health Administration. Federal investigators blamed poor welding and construction.

In 2001, another worker at the mine died after a portion of roof fell in on him, and an electrician died after being electrocuted while repairing a shuttle car there in 2003.

Massey Energy is a publicly traded company based in Richmond, Va., that has 2.2 billion tons of coal reserves in southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, southwest Virginia and Tennessee, according to the company's Web site.

Massey ranks among the nation's top five coal producers and is among the industry's most profitable. It has a spotty safety record.

The federal mine safety administration fined Massey a then-record $1.5 million for 25 violations that inspectors concluded contributed to the deaths of two miners trapped in a fire in January 2006. The company later settled a lawsuit naming it, several subsidiaries and Chief Executive Don Blankenship as defendants. Aracoma Coal Co. later paid $2.5 million in fines after the company pleaded guilty to 10 criminal charges in the fire.

The United Mine Workers labor union said it has personnel nearby and would help non-union Massey if the company asks. The UMW said it also is ready to help families of workers at the mine. Massey is virulently non-union and CEO Blankenship's television set with a UMW fired bullet in it still sits in his office.

In 2006, 12 miners died in a methane explosion at the Sago Mine in West Virginia. Six were killed in the collapse of the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah in 2007.

West Virginia requires all underground mines to have wireless communications and tracking systems designed to survive explosions and other disasters. While not all mines in West Virginia comply with federal standards, all have systems that meet state requirements, engineering consultant Harris said.

Last year, the number of miners killed on the job in the U.S. fell for a second straight year to 34, the fewest since officials began keeping records nearly a century ago. That was down from the previous low of 52 in 2008.

U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration documents show 18 of the deaths occurred in coal mines, down from 29 in 2008; and 16 were in gold, copper and other types of mines, down from 22 in 2008.

The deadliest year in recorded U.S. coal mining history was 1907, when 3,242 deaths were reported. That year, the nation's deadliest mine explosion killed 358 people near Monongah, W.Va.

White House Concerned Over Karzai's Comments

The Obama administration voiced fresh concern Monday about a series of critical statements that Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai has made about the West and America's role in his wartorn country.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said reports Karzai threatened in a private meeting with lawmakers to abandon the political process and join the Taliban insurgency if he continued to receive pressure from Western backers to reform his government are troubling.

"On behalf of the American people, we're frustrated with the remarks," Gibbs told reporters.

Karzai's comments are the latest in a string of statements by the Afghan leader that have concerned U.S. officials. On Thursday, Karzai lashed out against the U.N. and the international community, accusing them of perpetrating a "vast fraud" in last year's presidential polls as part of a conspiracy to deny him re-election or tarnish his victory, accusations the U.S. has denied.

"The substance of the remarks are obviously not true," Gibbs said.

Afghan lawmakers speaking on condition of anonymity said Karzai on Saturday dismissed concerns over damage to relations with the United States, and said he had clarified things in a telephone conversation with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Karzai's comments came just days after President Barack Obama made a surprise, six-hour visit to Afghanistan last week, meeting with the Afghan president and other officials, and reportedly telling them in clear terms that they must step up progress in reducing government corruption. A planned meeting between Obama and Karzai in Washington on May 12 is still scheduled, Gibbs said.

Police: Kids Left In Car For 2-Day Binge

Two men accused of leaving two hungry children in a vehicle during a two-day drinking and partying binge face child abandonment charges, according to authorities, WDIV-TV in Detroit reported.

Jackson County sheriff's deputies arrested the children's 28-year-old father and 27-year-old uncle about 12:30 a.m. Sunday inside a bowling alley. Deputies said the men were intoxicated when they were arrested.

Deputies were called to the Summit Lanes Bowling Alley to check on a report of abandoned children in a vehicle. When deputies arrived, they found the 4- and 6-year-old children locked inside a vehicle in the parking lot. The children told deputies they had not eaten in two days while their father and uncle drove around drinking and partying.

Police said the children were living in unsanitary conditions and that there were beer bottles inside the vehicle. Both men face child abandonment charges. They are expected to be arraigned Monday afternoon.

A Department of Human Services investigation is ongoing. Jackson County Lt. Brad Piros said the children have been returned to their mother.

"This was actually part of his visitation. He actually had the children for the weekend," said Piros.

Toyota Faces $16M Fine, Accused Of Hiding Defect

The government accused Toyota of hiding a "dangerous defect" and proposed a record $16.4 million fine on Monday for failing to quickly alert regulators to safety problems in gas pedals on popular models such as the Camry and Corolla.

The proposed fine, announced Monday by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, is the most the government could levy for the sticking gas pedals that have led Toyota to recall millions of vehicles. There could be further penalties under continuing federal investigations. The Japanese automaker faces private lawsuits seeking many millions more.

Toyota Motor Corp. has recalled more than 6 million vehicles in the U.S., and more than 8 million worldwide, because of acceleration problems in multiple models and braking issues in the Prius hybrid.

Documents obtained from the automaker show that Toyota knew of the problem with the sticking gas pedals in late September but did not issue a recall until late January, LaHood said. The sticking pedals involved 2.3 million vehicles.

"We now have proof that Toyota failed to live up to its legal obligations," LaHood said in a statement. "Worse yet, they knowingly hid a dangerous defect for months from U.S. officials and did not take action to protect millions of drivers and their families."

For those reasons, LaHood said, the government is seeking a fine of $16.375 million, the maximum penalty possible. That dwarfs the previous record: In 2004, General Motors paid a $1 million fine for responding too slowly on a recall of nearly 600,000 vehicles over windshield wiper failure.

How Toyota decides to respond to the fines could pose a dilemma for the automaker. The company faces 138 potential class-action lawsuits over falling vehicle values and nearly 100 personal injury and wrongful death cases in federal courts nationwide. If Toyota pays the fines, the admission could hurt it in courtrooms. But battling the government over the penalties could undermine the automaker's attempts to move on from the recalls.

Latest Quakes Updated - USGS

y/m/d h:m:s
MAP3.8 2010/04/06 01:04:42 32.832-116.256 18.9 25 km ( 15 mi) NNW of Jacumba Hot Springs, CA
MAP3.6 2010/04/06 01:04:00 32.571-115.739 3.0 25 km ( 16 mi) S of Seeley, CA
MAP3.6 2010/04/06 00:59:09 32.212-115.346 27.2 24 km ( 15 mi) WSW of Guadalupe Victoria, Mexico
MAP4.1 2010/04/06 00:56:39 32.057-115.207 0.0 28 km ( 17 mi) SSW of Guadalupe Victoria, Mexico
MAP3.8 2010/04/06 00:53:53 32.593-115.778 2.3 24 km ( 15 mi) SSW of Seeley, CA
MAP3.7 2010/04/06 00:51:19 32.596-115.785 1.1 24 km ( 15 mi) SSW of Seeley, CA
MAP3.7 2010/04/06 00:51:00 32.611-115.771 8.9 22 km ( 13 mi) SSW of Seeley, CA
MAP3.1 2010/04/06 00:46:47 32.746-114.729 6.0 9 km ( 5 mi) W of Winterhaven, CA
MAP3.0 2010/04/06 00:41:45 32.980-116.224 0.1 20 km ( 12 mi) SSW of Ocotillo Wells, CA
MAP3.1 2010/04/06 00:19:04 32.608-115.743 0.2 21 km ( 13 mi) SSW of Seeley, CA
MAP3.4 2010/04/06 00:16:54 32.584-115.763 4.0 24 km ( 15 mi) SSW of Seeley, CA
U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration; AP; Reuters; WDIV-TV, Detroit; US DOT; USGS.

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