In the 20th century coal mining was a very profitable business. The Belgian coal industry thrived with 7 large mines in the province of Limburg, feeding a coal ravenous heavy steel industry in Wallonia.
Pit workers were recruited from the rural areas of the country, many of those young men had no education and lived on their parents farm with very little prospect. Easy pray to be lured into the mines under false promises. No wonder that so many of them moved to the Wallonia mines such as “ Le Bois du Cazier” in Marcinelle. Upon arrival, they found themselves in a foreign country, not speaking the language and housed in real estate owned by the mine. Medical care and social provisions were at an absolute minimum. The coalminer worked six days a week fourteen hours a day under very demanding working conditions. An environment filled with dust, polluted air, noise, heat and a permanent draft. A canary bird safeguards the miner against the ever-present killer “Mine gas”.Above ground wasn’t much better, housing was provided by the mine company. Families paid a very high monthly rent for a small and miserable house, with at best one bedroom, kitchen and dining room heated with a coal furnace. Even the coal had to be bought from the mining company. Large groups of miners could not adapt to the miserable conditions and returned home, poor and broken.
The mining company did not care, workers were considered an expendable resource and available in abundance.
For the mining company, “Mine Safety” regulations were not a concern, as those were merely an advice and not binding. The mine company considered it as “Not needed” and complied with the absolute minimum. After all it costs momey.
The fatal day at “ Bois du Cazier, 08 August 1956”
At level “975”, while the colliers load the first coal wagons a call comes in “ Level 975, Stop loading ” . Another level has been given priority .
The Italian miner Antonio Lanetta ignores the instructions and pushes the coal wagon in the elevator. The coal wagon gets stuck in the elevator cage , 35cm sticks outside the cage. When the elevator starts to descend the coal wagon hits a metal beam supporting the shaft. The beam cuts through two 3000 Volt electrical cables and punctures a high-pressure oil tube sourced from a 850 Liter Oil tank at the same location. Oil sprays around, within seconds the electrical cables arc, igniting a lethal inferno.
Six workers from level “975” including Antonio Lanetta are able to escape the inferno. For the others there is little hope as the elevator cable snaps. The fire goes on for days, 262 brave men die. Shortly after the disaster regulations and safety was tightened and enforced.
Thanks for reading,
Co-reader jak Smits