Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

One worker dead, another trapped after coal plant collapses in Eastern Kentucky

By Christopher Leach Lexington Herald-Leader

LEXINGTON, Ky. – A worker was killed and another was presumed trapped Wednesday after a coal preparation plant in Eastern Kentucky collapsed, officials said.

The collapse happened around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Martin Mine Prep Plant in Martin County, according to Kentucky Emergency Management. The 11-story coal sorting structure, located in a sparsely populated area of steep hills, fell, leaving the two workers trapped underneath multiple floors of concrete and steel.

The workers were preparing the structure for demolition when it collapsed.

The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet said the facility had been closed for years prior to Tuesday’s collapse.

The worker who did not survive had been trapped under a metal beam and died as first responders were attempting to extricate him.

Rescuers attempted to let the man speak to his wife over the phone but a lack of cell service – an issue further compounding rescue efforts, Kirk said – prevented it. Still, the worker and his wife were able to share messages with one another before he died, Kirk said.

Rescue operations were ongoing for the second worker.

Martin County Judge-Executive Lon Lafferty held a news conference Wednesday afternoon on the status of the operation. “The situation doesn’t look good,” he said, but officials are still searching with hopes the second worker is still alive.

“This remains as of this hour a rescue operation,” Lafferty said. “We haven’t given up hope on the second worker.”

Next of kin for the workers have been on scene and notified of the updates, according to Lafferty. The workers are believed to be from Pike County.

Lafferty, who saw the collapsed building, described it as a “tremendous pile of rubble.”

“It’s horrific,” Lafferty said. “I remember being in New York after 9/11 and those images that you see there, it’s kind of what you see here.”

Jeremy Slinker, the state director of emergency management, said rescue operations were hazardous.

“The rescue attempts that are going on and went on last night, those rescuers’ lives are in danger as we speak. They’re going into a very unstable structure in efforts to save lives,” said Jeremy Slinker, state director of Kentucky Emergency Management.

The land where the incident happened was undergoing reclamation work, according to public records. Lexington Coal Company, LLC, had been given a permit for the reclamation work.

The Kentucky Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement has jurisdiction over mine reclamation activities, and the agency sent inspectors to the scene of the collapse Tuesday, according to the state Energy and Environment Cabinet.

The inspectors will examine the area to see if there was any environmental damage caused by the collapse. They had no further information to provide Wednesday morning.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will investigate the plant collapse, Kentucky State Police say.

State Trooper Michael Coleman told the Herald-Leader that KSP responded to the scene to help, but OSHA has since taken over the case.

Gov. Andy Beshear released a new statement on social media Wednesday morning telling the public the scene of the collapse was “bad.”

“Kentucky, keep praying – but the scene is bad and we should be prepared for tough news out of Martin County,” Beshear said.

Meanwhile, Buck Branch United Baptist Church, in the Wolf Creek community about 2 miles from the scene, served as a hub for people to bring food and other items for first responders and community members.

Lloyd Parsley, assistant pastor at the church, said nearly everyone in the community has been a coal miner or is close with one. They try to do everything they can to support each other through tragedies such as this one.

Parsley said it was upsetting that the plant workers showed up Tuesday thinking they’d work a normal shift and go home. “That’s how fast you can leave this old world,” he said.