DISASTER: Death in Main West

At 3:29 p.m. the lights blinked out in the Centralia Coal Company's Mine No. 5, near Centralia, Ill. Wiry, redheaded Earl Wilkinson had just coasted his squat, electric locomotive out of a tunnel, banged to a stop in a low cavern near the mine's elevator shaft. He stiffened, listened intently. He heard no sound. But a wind came out of the subterranean darkness and enveloped him in clouds of coal dust and coppery-smelling smoke. "God," he said aloud, "it's a bad windy* or an explosion."

He ran toward the shaft, finally saw hat...

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