Canada’s Springhill coalfield in Nova Scotia opened in the 19th century, and was the scene of more than one serious accident. Way back in 1891 a coal-dust fire broke out in Number 1 and 2 collieries which were connected by a tunnel. With 125 miners killed and scores more injured, it was a disaster that horrified the nation. In 1956, Number 4 colliery suffered an explosion when runaway train cars carrying coal dust hit a power line. A huge blast destroyed surface buildings and killed or trapped over 100 miners (39 dead, 8: pulled out alive after a superhuman effort by rescue crews).
Just two years later, Number 2 colliery was rocked by the worst ‘bump’ in North American mining history. A bump is an underground quake caused when bedrock weakened by mining activity gives way, creating a shockwave with a domino effect that causes further collapses. The bump that occurred on October 23 was so severe that it was felt as a small earthquake on the surface. The mining community of Springhill immediately appreciated that this presaged disaster and hurried to the mine to begin a long vigil as a frantic rescue effort was mounted.
Rescue teams found survivors at the 4,200 m (13,800 ft) level, but tunnels were blocked by rock falls and shafts were filled with debris. It looked bad but, after seven days of frantic digging, 12 lucky miners were pulled out. Two days later a final group of survivors was found, but after that only bodies were recovered. It wasn’t the world’s worst mining disaster but the Springhill bump attracted widespread attention because the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation beamed out pictures of the unfolding drama, making it the first major accident ever to get international coverage on live TV.
When: October 23 1958
Where: Springhill, Cumberland County, Nova Scotia, Canada
Death toll: 74 miners died, 100 were rescued.
You should know: The Springhill operation was closed down after the 1958 disaster, devastating the community and leaving some of the world’s deepest coal workings to fill with water. But the flooded mines would later be used to provide a useful source of geothermal energy for local industries.