Death in the Darkness

Too many risks and too little inspection in the coal mines?

Lillie Hamilton can look out the back window of her boxy clapboard house in Mink Branch, Ky., and see the family business, a small coal mine burrowed into the hillside. One chill morning last month, seven men—including three of her sons and a grandson—were wedged 700 ft. down a narrow tunnel, crawling on their knees and blasting loose great chunks of bituminous coal with an explosive gel. Suddenly, a monstrous explosion shattered the Appalachian quiet. The Joyce Ann shaft (named for a Hamilton...

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