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The Coal Mine Disaster of 1947

Quitting time was rapidly approaching at the No. 5 Coal Mine on that peaceful afternoon of March 25, 1947, when tragedy suddenly struck at 3:27 p.m. The lives of 111 miners were snuffed out by a monstrous explosion. There had been 142 men at work below the surface, and the few who survived were located several thousand feet from the site of the blast. The only discernible effects recalled by the survivors were a slight "whoosh" of cool wind and a low rumbling. The Centralia Coal Company had discovered coal at this location at the southern edge of Wamac in 1907. Many of its lengthy tunnels spread out beneath that community. Coal production from the mine usually exceeded 2,000 tons per day. Almost immediately after the blast, rescue operations were mounted. Miners from throughout the region volunteered their services in a desperate effort to extricate their comrades. Both personnel and equipment were amassed. Families and friends gathered at the mine sharing in a prolonged vigil. The crowd accepted the disaster with grim and calmness. They awaited the news thin-lipped and with occasional tears. Reports from the rescue squads working 540 feet below the ground was bleak. Then a spring snow fell, turned gray, and added to the somberness of the scene. Never had the community been so united as they were in their efforts to support the families of the miners. The Salvation Army and the Red Cross provided food and drinks throughout the long wait. The wait was now in vain, and it became apparent that the community had suffered its worst disaster. Citizens from all walks of life extended their sympathy to the grieving families and rendered those services that were requested. City officials and staff members, organizations, churches, state police, St. Mary's Hospital staff, doctors, nurses, and individuals joined in this massive demonstration of community cooperation. The toll of the dead grew, and the community turned to sad duty of burying those who had perished. The funeral establishments were taxed and often held a single service for several men. A fund of $60,000, made up of donations contributed throughout the nation, was distributed to the families. l aster with grim calmness. They awaited the news thin-lipped and with occasional tears. Reports from the rescue squads working 540 feet below the ground was bleak. Then a spring snow fell, turned gray, and added to the somberness of the scene. Never had the community been so united as they were in their efforts to support the families of the miners. The Salvation Army and the Red Cross provided food and drinks throughout the long wait. The wait was now in vain, and it became apparent that the community had suffered its worst disaster. Citizens from all walks of life extended their sympathy to the grieving families and rendered those services that were requested. City officials and staff members, organizations, churches, state police, St. Mary's Hospital staff, doctors, nurses, and individuals joined in this massive demonstration of community cooperation. The toll of the dead grew, and the community turned to sad duty of burying those who had perished. The funeral establishments were taxed and often held a single service for several men. A fund of $60,000, made up of donations contributed throughout the nation, was distributed to the families. Investigations followed by the US Senate, the governor, the general assembly and the miner's union. It was generally concluded that the disaster resulted from a coal dust explosion, ignited by explosives. Blame was to be shared by the mine operators, the state's mining department and the state inspector responsible for the mine's safety. Punishment handed out was inconsequential, but the investigations produced recommendations for mine safety later enacted into law. Deep scars resulted from the disaster. The 111 miners who were killed in No. 5 mine left 98 widows and 78 dependent children. The miners were memorialized by plaques located in Centralia Foundation Park and a black granite memorial stone in Wamac City Park.

 - An article by George E. Ross of "Centralia -  A Political History"




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