April 1, 2011
Contact:
Emerson Brown, NPR


   

NPR NEWS INVESTIGATON INTO FATAL APRIL 2010 MASSEY MINE EXPLOSION FINDS DELAY IN TIMELY REPORTING AND EMERGENCY RESPONSE TO DISASTER

TWO-PART REPORT FROM NPR'S HOWARD BERKES AIRS TODAY AND MONDAY, FIRST PIECE AVAILABLE NOW AT NPR.ORG

As the one-year anniversary of the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia approaches, an ongoing NPR News Investigation has uncovered new details and lingering questions about the emergency response to the deadly disaster. NPR correspondent Howard Berkes obtained and analyzed nearly 20 hours of recordings, logs and notes, and conducted interviews, to piece together the sequence of events on April 5, 2010, and the search and rescue effort that followed. The analysis shows a delay in reporting the mine accident to the state's mine emergency hotline and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. It also took close to 90 minutes to call 911 after the first signs of trouble. The delays and the information revealed in the calls suggest mine officials also initially underplayed the seriousness of the explosion.

Berkes' reports air this evening on All Things Considered and Monday on Morning Edition (visit www.npr.org/stations for local broadcast times). The first piece is also available now at NPR.org (www.npr.org/2011/04/01/135042915/emergency-reports-detail-slow-mine-blast-response) along with a timeline of the events on that fateful day. NPR's Berkes is the only national reporter who has continuously investigated the tragedy this past year.

In the first part of Berkes' report, he details occurrences that may indicate key failures in the mine's emergency reporting system. According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the explosion at Upper Big Branch hit at 3:02PM After studying phone and radio recordings - along with logs, transcripts and command center notes, Berkes finds that the first call to the hotline reporting the explosion was made 25 minutes later, at 3:27PM, despite federal mine safety regulations requiring any accident be reported within 15 minutes. Berkes also notes the Massey safety official making the call, and the hotline operator he speaks with, take nearly a minute-and-a-half to get to critical information about carbon monoxide levels indicative of a serious fire or explosion, and two minutes to say there were no injuries before ending the call.

Berkes reports that three minutes later, around 3:30PM, two Massey executives and six other managers and miners rushed into the mine. The group first encountered a survivor struggling to get out, about 1.6 miles from the mine entrance, and then found a shuttle car with dead or dying miners. All of the victims were taken out of the mine. The two Massey managers continued into the mine and have claimed they were searching for victims.

Emergency response records analyzed by NPR, however, show almost another hour passed before Massey Mine safety officials called 911 to report possible injuries and request assistance from emergency responders.

Berkes' report concludes Monday, April 4 on Morning Edition, with a continued look at the search and rescue effort, and why 22 families endured four days of waiting before learning their loved ones did not survive.

Berkes has been covering coal mine safety as part of an ongoing NPR News Investigation into the explosion at Upper Big Branch. During the course of his investigation, Berkes has consistently reported new findings and captured the impact of the mine disaster on some of the people affected. Key reports from the past year include the discovery that two officials from Upper Big Branch owner Massey Energy were underground unsupervised for four hours after the blast; Massey workers had disabled a safety monitor in the mine; the Labor Department's unprecedented action against Massey, seeking its first-ever federal injunction to shut down another Massey-owned mine in Kentucky; and a conversation with the twin brother of one of the miners lost in the accident when many of the victims' surviving family members had declined to speak publically. All archived reports from this NPR News Investigation are available at NPR.org: www.npr.org/series/131960177/massey-mine-investigation