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US coal mine collapse kills two miners

World Coal,

Two coal miners in West Virginia have been killed in a mine collapse in West Virginia.

The Patriot Coal Corp. Brody Mine No. 1 collapsed about 8.30 pm on Monday, trapping two miners, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) said in a statement.

Patriot Coal will likely be the subject of fierce criticism over the deaths, as it appears as though the company ignored calls to improve safety at the mine. The Brody mine had “chronic compliance issues” and received numerous citations from inspectors last year, federal authorities said on Tuesday.

The miners, both from West Virginia, were identified as Eric Legg, 48, of Twilight, and Gary Hensley, 46, of Chapmanville.

“We express our deepest sympathies to Eric’s and Gary’s families, friends and co-workers,” Mike Day, Patriot’s executive vice president for operations, said in a statement.

Day said that Patriot would co-operate with state and federal regulators investigating the accident. The company said the incident occurred as workers were carrying out retreat mining.

Federal authorities have said there was a “pattern of difficulties” at the mine.

Last October, the Brody mine was placed on “pattern of violations” status, a scheme designed to bring “chronic violators” of deferral mining standards into line, the MSHA said in a statement. In 2013, MSHA issued 514 citations, orders and safeguards against the Patriot mine.

When asked for a response, a Patriot spokeswoman pointed to the company’s annual report, which notes that many of the Brody violations preceded the company’s acquisition of the mine and that the site’s performance had improved since the takeover.

Mine Safety data for the Brody mine shows that the rate of days lost because of accidents there has been above the national average since 2006.

West Virginia is one of the biggest US producers of coal and leads states in coal-mining deaths, MSHA numbers show. Before Monday's accident, the state recorded 124 deaths since 2003, about 39% of the US total.

Patriot Coal only recently emerged from a controversial bankruptcy saga, which pitted the company against the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) union. The UMWA claimed Patriot had been created by Peabody Energy, as a means to dispose of unprofitable assets, including retiree liabilities. 

Edited from various sources by Sam Dodson

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