INEZ, Ky. (AP) — One man has died after he and a coworker were trapped beneath tons of concrete and steel when an 11-story building being demolished collapsed at an abandoned eastern Kentucky mine’s coal preparation plant.
The building at Martin Mine Prep Plant in Martin County collapsed around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. Teams used cameras, listening devices and search dogs to try to rescue the men, but Gov. Andy Beshear announced Wednesday that one of the men had died.
“It’s a terrible day for us. We’ve seen tragedies like this before associated of course with the industries that we’re involved in. So it’s not foreign to us, but it’s still a terrible day any time we see a tragedy,” Martin County Judge Executive Lon Lafferty said during an afternoon news conference at the scene.
Lafferty said the search is ongoing for the other worker.
“As of right now, the situation does not look good,” Lafferty said. “This remains, as of this hour, a rescue operation.”
Lafferty said the men were working to demolish part of the abandoned mine site on Wolf Creek when the collapse occurred. He said the workers were trapped under a “tremendous pile of rubble.”
First responders made contact with one of the trapped men and entered the rubble to try to extricate him, but he died shortly afterward. The plant hasn’t been in use for several years and the men were on the bottom floor when it collapsed.
In a social media post Wednesday morning, Beshear said he had declared a state of emergency in the county — mobilizing state resources to help with the rescue. The governor asked for prayers for the safety of the workers and the rescue teams.
“Kentucky, keep praying — but the scene is bad,” Beshear said in a post about two hours later.
Several rescuers were inside the rubble as part of the rescue effort. The rescue could take days, Kirk said.
“This is a lot of weight. A lot of large metal structures, a lot of concrete, and very confined space last. Very tight spaces,” he said.
Special Operations Battalion Chief Chris Ward of the Lexington Fire Department said rescue crews have been using search dogs and cadaver dogs to look through the rubble. The men were part of a larger crew working on the ground level of the site at the time of the collapse, and law enforcement has been coordinating with at least one eye witness to help identify key search areas.
“We’re in under that structure and we’re just trying to search all the voids with cameras, listening devices, just trying to see if we can get any idea of where that individual might be. But at this time, we haven’t located anything,” Ward said during an afternoon news conference.
Officials lamented the lack of cell phone and internet service in providing timely updates to various agencies as well as moving necessary equipment on small, rural roads.
Director of Kentucky Emergency Management Col. Jeremy Slinker said several state agencies have begun investigations into the collapse and possible causes, including Kentucky state police.
The Kentucky Division of Occupational Safety and Health Compliance said one of its officers was on site and that an inspection had been opened with Lexington Coal Company LLC, which had contracted with Skeens Enterprises LLC for site demolition and salvage operations.
The division said the investigation could take up to six months to complete.
In a statement, State Sen. Phillip Wheeler, whose district includes Martin County, said he was saddened by the news.
“This incident is a stark reminder of the inherent risks in any job and the unexpected nature of tragedy,” Wheeler said.
President Lyndon Johnson visited Inez during his “War On Poverty” in 1964.
In 2000, a coal-sludge impoundment in Inez collapsed, sending an estimated 300 million gallons into the Big Sandy River and its tributaries. A byproduct of purifying coal, the sludge oozed into yards and streams for miles in what was considered one of the South’s worst environmental disasters at the time.