Two Bodies Recovered After Lightning-Sparked Blast
DRENNEN, W.Va. (AP) _ Rescue workers on Sunday uncovered the bodies of two cousins who were killed when lightning set off explosives at a coal surface mine in central West Virginia, officials said.
The bodies were discovered under dirt, rocks and coal blown loose in Saturday’s explosion at the High Power Mountain Energy Corp. strip mine, said Mark Scott, the state’s Division of Mines and Materials director.
″They were both found near the blast site, under four to five feet of material,″ Scott said. ″It’s hard to tell what caused the death, whether they suffocated or whether it was the explosion.″
The dead were identified as Randall G. Roop, 35, of Drennen, a ″shooter″ who places explosive charges and detonates them, and his cousin, Michael E. Roop, 39, of Belva, an unskilled laborer. It appeared the two had been working side-by-side.
About three dozen people were working at the Nicholas County surface mine west of Summersville when a sudden storm blew in. Lightning probably set off some of the 17 charges that had been placed in the ground, High Power safety director Mark Potnick said Saturday.
None of the other workers was injured, Scott said.
The Roops were part of a powder crew that had just finished setting 17 charges to blast out a section of hilltop, trooper T.H. Johnson said.
The crew sounded the warning siren and then backed off to trigger the blast when a test showed wires to two of the charges were dead.
The Roops walked back out to the explosives at the time a light rain started to fall and were testing the charges when the lightning hit, Johnson said.
″When the lightning hit, all the charges went off at once,″ Johnson said. ″It lifted that section straight up and it set back down.″
Recovery crews set up floodlights to search during the night. State police search dogs and helicopters were used in the search for the bodies, Scott said.
Earth-moving machines were used Sunday to sift the dirt, rocks and coal, he said.
High Power had opened the mine recently and was still expanding, Scott said. He said he did not know the size of the search area, and High Power workers at the site refused to comment Sunday.
In most circumstances, explosive charges used to loosen rock and soil over coal seams are placed in 50-foot holes and set off by radio, Scott said.
State Department of Energy inspectors said the High Power workers had just completed setting the charges, Scott said, adding that they probably did not have time to get away.
How far workers must be from the charges depends on the mine, its permit, and the force of the explosives.
″Each mine has its own set safe zone,″ Scott said. ″You have to be a great deal away ... several hundred feet.″ He said the charges being used at High Power were ″fairly strong, but not super strong.″
The energy department sent five inspectors to the mine.