June 9, 1914

COAL DAMP EXPLOSION AT HILLCREST MINE


Terrible disaster last Friday claimed lives of nearly two hundred miners — scenes of tragedy and sorrow as blackened bodies are rescued — 150 buried on Sunday

Hillcrest, Alta, June 19 - One hundred and ninety-five miners out of 236 who went to work at the No. 1 mine of the Hillcrest collieries are dead as the result of an explosion of black damp which occurred in the mine shaft 1,600 feet underground at 9:30 this morning.

Forty-one men were rescued. Foreman J.S. Quigley is among the missing. The bodies are being brought from the mine as rapidly as trucks can carry them to the surface. The rescuers are working desperately to get the entombed miners to the fresh air as soon as possible in the hope that some of them may be revived. But each truck contains the charred remains of a victim of the worst mining catastrophe in the history of Canada, and even the friends and relatives of the men who are still missing have given up hope of ever seeing them alive. The forty-one men who were delivered from awful death in the depths of the wrecked mine were rescued early in the day. Every carrier that comes up now contains a lifeless form.


DID NOT KNOW CAUSE OF EXPLOSION


General Manager Brown, of the Hillcrest collieries, in a conversation and guarded statement to a newspaper representative, said that he did not know the cause of the explosion was, and would not conjecture an opinion. "There is so much confusion now that I am not in a position to give a detailed statement," said Mr. Brown. "I have not been able to make any investigation of the circumstances surrounding the disaster, all my time having been occupied since the explosion occurred in superintending the work of recovering the bodies. The explosion took place at 9:30 this morning, and 10 minutes later the rescue work was commenced, willing assistance coming from all quarters."


RESCUE CREW NOT VERY HOPEFUL


"Two hundred and thirty-six men went into the mine. I am not in a position to say how many of these are saved. I trust this may be the case, although the rescue crew are not very hopeful. However, I want you to make it clear that at this stage I am unable to give exact figures of the number of men who are dead. The bodies will be checked when they come out of the mine, and placed in the wash house to be made as presentable as possible to their grief-stricken relatives. I will not know the extent of the casualties till tomorrow. I will remain at the mouth of the mine all night, if necessary. I will stay till every man is accounted for by his living presence or his dead body."


EXPLOSION WRECKED THE ENGINE HOUSE


"Shortly after the explosion took place I sent a wire telling C.B. Gordon, Montreal, president of the company, of the awful happening. I received a reply from him as quickly as it could be rushed from Montreal, but it contained nothing of public interest. Most of the other officers and directors of the mine live in Montreal, although capitalists in Victoria, Nelson and other cities are also heavily interested. As far as I know, there are no Calgary officers. The explosion wrecked the engine house at the mouth of No. 1 mine, and black smoke shot up in the air for several feet. The smoke was what first attracted attention to it. At the present time I am not in a position to make a more extended statement. I will make a fuller explanation later when the rescue crew has completed its work and when I am certain as to details."


NO LIVING MEN NOW IN THE MINE


A pall of gloom hangs over the little mountain town of Hillcrest. The town has about 1,500 habitants, and fully a quarter of these have been directly affected by the horrible tragedy. Many women have lost their breadwinners, and dozens are bereft of sons, brothers and sweethearts. The town is numb with grief and sorrow. Everywhere one sees girls and women seeking for their dead. Lumber trucks running two in a shift are being sent down into the black bit of death every few minutes, manned by willing crews of grim rescue workers. In readiness to render assistance of resuscitating in case any living men are brought out of the depths, doctors and nurses, trained and volunteer, await the call of duty. But it seems quite certain that there are no living men in the mine.

It is practically assured that the 41 miners who were delivered from a terrible death are the only survivors. Each time the trucks come up to the mouth of mine No. 2, through which the rescue crews are entering the caverns of death on account of the wrecking of the mouth of mine No. 1, which is clogged with a mass of debris, a silent form, black from the storm of coal dust which filled the air when the explosion took place, and cold in death, is brought to the surface.

The former companions of the dead miners place their smothered mates in a stretcher on trucks, over which are thrown blankets to hide the ghastly sight of the blackened bodies from the eyes of the crews that have gathered in awe-stricken silence along the tracks on which the trucks are being run. A few hundred yards from the mouth of the mine the bodies are being carried into the wash house, and after being made presentable are being taken to the miners hall in the town and laid out to be claimed by their bereaved families and friends.

At 10 o'clock that night there were sixteen bodies in the hall. As the bodies are brought out of the mine anxious, tearful women cast a horrified glance at the trucks eager to see if the remains are those of their loved ones, half afraid for fear they may be. Although the bodies are covered, these sorrowing women are sometimes able to tell by a glimpse at a shoe, an exposed hand or patch of clothing if the death trucks bear the objects of their grief, and frequently harrowing scenes result. Many of the bereaved are loathe to leave their homes. Overcome with shock and grief, they sit on the verandah of their humble cottages swaying to and fro in silent pain or moaning and sobbing hysterical grief. For the most part the mourners are subdued in their expressions of sorrow, their agony too deep for superficial manifestation.


INTERVIEW WITH SURVIVORS


A peculiar fact of the explosion is the fact that very few of the survivors seem to have any idea whatever of what really occurred. They know there was a noise such as would be made by the bursting of a mammoth shell, a falling of rocks and chunks of coal, cries of terror that made the walls of the mines ring with mocking echoes, then the most of them lapsed into stupor of unconsciousness. The newspaper representative interviewed no fewer than fifteen survivors, but not a single one of them had a comprehensive idea of what had taken place.

In the horror of the terrible calamity they temporarily lost their powers of observation and reasoning and remember nothing but the loud report and the hail of pelting rocks, coal fragments, storm of coal dust.


MADE NOISE LIKE A CANNON


Herbert Yeadon, one of the survivors, told in a fragmentary way what he remembered of the occurrence.

"I was in the mine with six others about the end of drift No. 2 when the explosion took place. It made a noise like a cannon going off and we made a rush for the mouth of the pit. The gas was so strong however that we were driven back and the explosion in No. 1 mine blocked our way in the other direction. We lay down in a pool of water, remembering our instructions that this was the best course to take in case of gases escaping in a mine. Then all became black. I remembered no more. I knew nothing until I awoke in the open air underneath the blue sky restored to consciousness by operators who resuscitated me with a pulmotor. My companions were also saved by the same means."


150 VICTIMS LAID TO REST


Hillcrest, Alta., June 21 — almost directly under Turtle mountain, natural graveyard of victims of the Frank slide of a few years ago, was enacted this afternoon the last great tragic scene of the Hillcrest disaster. Over 150 bodies of miners were laid away with funeral rites, while around stood widows weeping and not a few sympathizers.

The funeral was an impressive one, all the more on account of its silent participants, and the little town of Hillcrest will for many a day date its time from this tragic Sunday. Even the elements showed sympathy with the mourners, for during the tragic proceedings fell fitful spurts of sleet, snow and rain, and the wind wantonly played with the wreaths and flowers which marked the narrow confines that held all that was mortal of father and brother.

In the quiet little valley, where yesterday the graves counted perhaps less than two score, today the number is augmented by 150. Other bodies are being prepared for the last rites and it is feared that several found a natural and permanent resting place beneath tons of rock and debris.

Outside Union hall, from which place the victims were taken to the grave, was today a scene of grief. Wives and children wept together and even strong men broke down. Widows were led away from the last fond gaze on the bodies of their husbands and moist eyes of onlookers were not a few. It was not infrequent that the lids of caskets were opened and kisses imprinted on the cold lips of the loved ones.


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