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3 dead, 9 missing after blast in deep Alabama coal mine

SHARE 3 dead, 9 missing after blast in deep Alabama coal mine

BROOKWOOD, Ala. — An explosion rocked a deep coal mine, killing at least three miners and leaving nine others missing and presumed dead, a company spokesman said Monday.

Four people were injured in the Blue Creek No. 5 mine, and one was in critical condition, said Kyle Parks of Walter Industries.

The explosion was caused by a cave-in Sunday during maintenance operations at the mine 36 miles southwest of Birmingham, said Parks, corporate communications director for the company based in Tampa, Fla.

The falling rock struck electrical equipment, creating sparks that ignited methane gas, said Dennis Hall, a spokesman for the company's subsidiary, Jim Walter Resources Inc. Methane is a natural component of most coal seams.

Hall said 23 workers were in the mine at the time of the accident.

It is the deepest vertical shaft coal mine in North America, at 2,200 feet deep, the company says.

There was no immediate indication where the cave-in or explosion occurred in the mine.

The mine, which opened in 1978, produces low-sulfur coal that is burned in power plants and in metallurgical operations.

The explosion was the latest in a series of accidents for Jim Walter Resources. Last month, a construction worker was killed in a fall at a company coal processing facility.

The No. 5 Mine was also the site of a blast in 1993 in which four workers were seriously burned.

It was closed in 1995 after "hot spots," or areas of spontaneous heating, were found in part of the mine.