Post-blast inspections of mines find 60 violations

CHARLESTON, W.Va. —Federal inspectors have found more than 60 serious safety violations at Massey Energy operations since the explosion that killed 29 miners, adding to fallout from the disaster that includes a wrongful death lawsuit by one of the men's widows.

Inspectors visited more than 30 underground Massey coal mines in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia after the April 5 blast, according to records from the Mine Safety and Health Administration. The agency has tentatively blamed preventable accumulations of explosive methane gas and coal dust for the worst U.S. coal mining disaster since 1970.

The miner's widow accuses the company of a history of safety violations that amount to negligence in the first wrongful death lawsuit over the explosion, which she filed Thursday.

Investigators were reviewing records from the site of the blast and waiting for dangerous gases to be ventilated before going underground at the Upper Big Branch mine. It will probably be another week until investigators can safely go in, MSHA Administrator Kevin Stricklin said.

To tally violations at other Massey sites, the Associated Press checked inspection records for all of the company's approximately 70 underground coal mines in the U.S. from April 5 through Thursday. Mines operated by other companies also were inspected during the same period.

Stricklin said the MSHA hasn't been disproportionately targeting Massey since the blast, nor has it increased the pace of inspections.

"We're just going about our regular business," Stricklin said. "I didn't give any instructions to go and look at Massey mines."

Still, Stricklin sharply criticized the company for violations found in the past 10 days.

"I'm very disappointed," Stricklin said. "You would think that personnel associated with Massey would be really more careful."