A devastating mine disaster kills over 1,000 workers in Courrieres, France, on this day in 1906. An underground fire sparked a massive explosion that virtually destroyed a vast maze of mines.
The Courrieres Colliery in northern France was a complex series of mines near the Pas-de-Calais Mountains. Tunnels into the mines issued forth from several towns in the area and more than 2,000 men and boys worked the mines, digging for coal that was used mostly in the manufacture of gas.
At about 3 p.m. on the afternoon of March 9, a fire began 270 meters underground in what was known as the Cecil pit. Unable to immediately extinguish it, workers decided to close the pit’s outlets and starve the fire of air. The following morning, with 1,795 workers inside the mine’s deep tunnels, a huge explosion issued forth from the Cecil pit. Apparently, fissures in the pit’s walls had allowed in flammable gases that were then sparked by the still-smoldering fire. It was 7 a.m. when debris rocketed out of the tunnels’ openings. Several people on the surface were killed by the blast and the roof a mine office was blown right off the building.
Fires raged from every opening of the mine and many people suffered terrible burn injuries. Since the fires continued to burn, rescuers and family members of the miners were unable to send help down the mine shafts. One rescue party of 40 men paid the ultimate price for their attempt–they were all killed when the shaft they were descending collapsed. Soon, French soldiers were called in to establish order from the mounting chaos outside the mine.
As bodies began to be found, a mortuary was established near the mine. It took weeks for the all of the bodies to be recovered and identified. In the end, the casualty toll from this disaster was 1,060 miners killed, with hundreds more suffering serious injuries.