The Worlds Worst Mining Disasters

Train in Coal Mine

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Mining has always been a risky occupation, especially in developing nations and countries with lax safety standards. Here are the deadliest mine accidents in the world.

Benxihu Colliery

This iron and coal mine started under dual Chinese and Japanese control in 1905, but the mine was in territory invaded by the Japanese and became a mine using Japanese forced labor. On April 26, 1942, a coal-dust explosion — a common hazard in underground mines — killed a full third of the workers on duty at the time: 1,549 died. A frenzied effort to cut off the ventilation and seal the mine to smother the fire left many unevacuated workers, who initially survived the blast, to suffocate to death. It took ten days to remove the bodies — 31 Japanese, the rest Chinese — and they were buried in a mass grave. Tragedy struck China again when 682 died on May 9, 1960, in the Laobaidong colliery coal dust explosion.

Courrières Mine Disaster

A coal-dust explosion ripped through this mine in Northern France on March 10, 1906. At least two-thirds of the miners working at the time were killed: 1,099 died, including many children — those who survived suffered burns or were sickened by the gases. One group of 13 survivors lived for 20 days underground; three of those survivors were under age 18. The mine accident sparked strikes from the angry public. The exact cause of what ignited the coal dust was never discovered. It remains the worst mining disaster in Europe's history.

Japan Coal Mining Disasters

On Dec. 15, 1914, a gas explosion at the Mitsubishi Hojyo coal mine in Kyūshū, Japan killed 687, making it the deadliest mine accident in Japan's history. But this country would see its share of more tragedy down below. On Nov. 9, 1963, 458 miners were killed in the Mitsui Miike coal mine in Omuta, Japan, 438 of those from carbon monoxide poisoning. This mine, the largest coal mine in the country, didn't cease operation until 1997.

Welsh Coal Mining Disasters

The Senghenydd Colliery Disaster happened on Oct. 14, 1913, during a period of peak coal output in the United Kingdom. The cause was most likely a methane explosion that ignited coal dust. The death toll was 439, making it the most deadly mine accident in the UK. This was the worst of a spate of mine disasters in Wales that occurred during a period of poor mine safety from 1850 to 1930. On June 25, 1894, 290 died at the Albion Colliery in Cilfynydd, Glamorgan in a gas explosion. On Sept. 22, 1934, 266 died in the Gresford Disaster near Wrexham in North Wales. And on Sept. 11, 1878, 259 were killed at the Prince of Wales Mine, Abercarn, Monmouthshire, in an explosion.​

Coalbrook, South Africa

The biggest mine disaster in South African history was also one of the deadliest in the world. On Jan. 21, 1960, a rock fall in a section of the mine trapped 437 miners. Of those casualties, 417 succumbed to methane poisoning. One of the problems was that there wasn't a drill capable of cutting a large enough hole for the men to escape. After the disaster, the country's mining authority purchased suitable rescue drilling equipment. There was outcry after the accident when it was reported that some miners had fled to the entrance at the first falling rock but were forced back into the mine by supervisors. Because of the racial inequality in the country, white miners' widows received more compensation than the Bantu widows.

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Johnson, Bridget. "The Worlds Worst Mining Disasters." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Johnson, Bridget. (2020, August 28). The Worlds Worst Mining Disasters. Retrieved from Johnson, Bridget. "The Worlds Worst Mining Disasters." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).