One Worker Dead, Another Trapped After Ky. Coal Plant Collapse

02 Nov, 2023 Liz Carey


Martin County, KY ( – Officials in eastern Kentucky have confirmed that one of two workers trapped inside a coal preparation plant when it collapsed has died.  

Rescue workers are still working to get to the worker trapped inside the 11-story coal sorting structure. Officials said the structure at the Martin Mine Prep Plant in Martin County, collapsed Tuesday evening around 6:30 p.m.  

Prior to Tuesday’s collapse, the plant had been closed for several years, officials with the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet said. The two workers were on the bottom floor of the building preparing it for demolition, officials said. When the structure collapsed it left the two workers trapped underneath multiple floors of concrete and steel. Rescue efforts continued into Wednesday, and Jeremy Slinker, director of the Kentucky Emergency Management agency said the crews included experts in urban search and rescue, as well as confined space searches.  

Rescue efforts will soon move to using heavy equipment to move debris, if the area is safe enough to do so, Slinker said in a press conference.  

“The most incredible bravery I’ve ever seen,” Martin County Judge-Executive Lon Lafferty said in Tuesday news conference. While there has been no contact with the second missing worker, or any recovery of the deceased, “hope remains,” Lafferty said.  

As of Wednesday, emergency crews effort were still considered a rescue operation, he said.  

“We haven’t given up hope on the second worker,” he said.  

Lafferty describe the collapsed building as a “tremendous pile of rubble.”  

“It’s horrific,” Lafferty said. “I remember being in New York after 9/11 and those images that you see there, it’s kind of what you see here.”  

Slinker said the rescue operations were hazardous to emergency workers.  

 “The rescue attempts that are going on and went on last night, those rescuers lives are in danger as we speak, they’re going into a very unstable structure in efforts to save lives,” he said.  

Rescue workers from the Lexington Fire Department were on the scene early Wednesday morning with search dogs. The dogs were deployed in the area where an eyewitness last saw the unaccounted for worker, battalion chief Chris Ward said.  

“We’re in under that structure and we’re just trying to search all the voids with cameras, listening devices, just trying to see if we can get any idea of where that individual might be,” Ward said. “At this time, we have not located anything.”  

Other search dogs ad cadaver dogs have run through the structure looking for the mission worker, Ward said.  

Public records for the coal plant indicate Lexington Coal Company, LLC, had been given a permit for the reclamation work on the plant. The Kentucky Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement has jurisdiction over the reclamation activities. Officials said the agency has sent inspectors to the scene. Inspectors from OSHA have also been sent to the scene.  

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said the state was watching the rescue efforts but should be prepared for a negative outcome. 

“Kentucky, keep praying — but the scene is bad and we should be prepared for tough news out of Martin County,” Beshear said in a tweet on X, formerly known as Twitter. Kentucky, please join Britainy (Beshear) and me in praying for their safety and for the brave teams working to rescue them,” 

Beshear declared a state of emergency to assist with rescue operations.  

Beshear said he had declared a state of emergency to assist with rescue operations, and that “a number of teams” were working to rescue people.  

Officials said the rescue effort could be a multiple day operation.  

Residents of the Wolf Creek community, where the plant is located, have begun to bring food and other items for the emergency responders, as well as other community members, to the Buck Branch United Baptist Church. Next of kin for both men have been notified, officials said. In cases like these, officials said, community members come together because nearly all of them has been a coal miner or is close to someone who was one.  

Lloyd Parsley, the church’s assistant pastor, said plant workers showed up Tuesday thinking they would work a normal shift and go home.  

“That’s how fast you can leave this old world,” he said. 

The nature of a disaster on workers in a small town was evidenced by the outpouring of support, said Jenee Presley, manager of the nearby Miner’s Mart. She said she was “devastated” by the coal plant collapse. Because everyone in the community knows one another, the impact of the incident was felt more intensely, she said.  

“Everybody comes together” in a situation like this, she said. 

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    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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