May 11, 1992 Back The Halifax Herald Limited

Tragedy triggers memories in Springhill

By Tom McCoag AMHERST BUREAU

SPRINGHILL - Not again!

That anguished thought flashed through the minds of four Springhill men who lived through Nova Scotia's last major coal mine disaster when they learned of Saturday's explosion at the Westray mine in Plymouth.

``When I heard the news, gooseflesh went all over me and up my back. It really shook me,'' said Caleb Rushton, a miner who was trapped underground for sixand-one-half days after a severe bump hit Springhill's No. 2 mine on Oct. 23, 1958.

``I know what they are going through or maybe going, hopefully going through, and if they're going through it there's a chance they might survive. Of course if the explosion hit the right place and they were there, they probably wouldn't know what hit them.''

The bump - the third major disaster to hit the Springhill mine - claimed the lives of 75 miners and initially trapped 101 men underground. It occurred just two years after an explosion rocked Springhill's No. 4 mine in 1956 killing 39, and 67 years after another explosion killed 125 in 1891.

"When you're in a situation like that you think of a lot of things,'' Mr. Rushton said. ``Mainly we were thinking of our families ... and spent the time wondering if we'd have to dig our way out and we knew we didn't have the strength to dig our way out so we just had to wait.''

Garnet Clarke, who was trapped for eight-and-half-days underground in 1958, said if experience is any indication the Westray miners are ``thinking of a way out ... if they're living.''

Like everyone else in the province, Mr. Clarke kept a close eye on news reports. Hearing them, particularly those about the non-functioning ventilation system, made him fear the worst.

``Things don't look too good for them. But you never know, they could be just like us. We got out. People said the same thing about us.''

The greatest fear the trapped miners face, he added, is gas. ``Sometimes you don't get injured, but the gas gets you. If there are any airpockets, let's hope they're in them, because it is the only thing that will save you. They'll be wondering if they have enough air.''

Cecil Colwell, one of the ``barefaced miners'' who worked round the clock to rescue miners in both the 1956 and 1958 disasters, initially reacted to the news by saying, ``My God it's happening all over again.''

His second thought was ``to go down there to help, but I didn't because I'm going on 77.''

``The trapped men are going through hell. They'll be thinking of their loved ones,'' he said.

Dr. Arnold Burden, who spent hours underground aiding injured miners following both the 1956 and 1958 disasters, said the news sparked a lot of memories.

Talk on Springhill's Main Street, he said, centred on the news from Plymouth. ``They're all thinking the same thing. `Is it possible to get these men out at all.'''

All four men said the situation will be tough for the families waiting to hear about their loved ones.

``They're going through the same thing people here did. The ones at home will be wondering if (the miners) are all right, or if they're dead or if they're hurt bad,'' Mr. Clarke said.

Each man said he would pray for the miners and their families.

``Prayers are what helped us as far as I was concerned,'' Mr. Rushton said.


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