The stories are commonplace throughout the Coal Region’s long history. Colliery whistles blow. The news of a disaster in the mines pulses through neighboring communities. Families of those employed in the mine and concerned townspeople race to the scene. Crowds gather outside a tunnel or above a shaft awaiting news from the depths of the earth.
This was the scene outside the Kocher Coal Company’s Porter Tunnel on March 1, 1977. Deep within the mine, located in Porter Township, Schuylkill County, a torrent of water rushed out from an old mine working that contained a vast, unknown reservoir. When the water rushed out and the rock, coal, and dust settled, nine mineworkers were dead. Another, Ronald Adley, was trapped behind a collapsed wall of rock. He’d be rescued on March 6th.
The disaster rattled the mining communities of Schuylkill County. Though the anthracite industry was but a meager shadow of its former self, a hearty group of mineworkers still made their living in the dwindling number of deep mines in the region. The response to the disaster, the deadliest in Schuylkill County in decades, proved a modern version of previous disaster responses. People raced to the scene. Mine safety crews arrived in a bid to rescue those who may remain alive within the mine. National news media poured into the southwestern Coal Region, broadcasting live to the world from the scene of the disaster.
The West Schuylkill Herald documented the local response to the disaster in its March 3rd edition. It is a fascinating window into how Tower City and other Schuylkill County communities faced down the disaster with courage and a resolve to help in anyway it could.
Emergency Crews Go Into Action
As soon as word of the mine disaster was spread, emergency crews sprang into action.
The Tower City Volunteer Fire Company Ambulance went to the scene and the crew helped with the handling of the body of Gary Klinger. The Tremont Ambulance also came to the scene and transported the men to the Pottsville Hospital.
The CB Club of the valley and the Porter-Tower Jaycees went into action and coordinated efforts of churches and individuals in providing hot soup, sandwiches, coffee, cake, and other food items. Yesterday they obtained cots for the close relatives of the trapped men, so they could rest while waiting word of their loved ones.
When word of the tragedy reached the Press-Herald office at Tremont, Mrs. Jane Atty of the Pottsville Red Cross office was delivering campaign material for the Red Cross Drive. She immediately called her office to arrange for help to be sent out, and also contacted Mitchell and Bonnie Raho in Tower City to get helpers to arrange to serve coffee and sandwiches to the rescue workers at the scene of the accident.
Pick and Shovel, Donaldson, provided two hot kettles of soup, hamburgers, and coffee which were dispensed at the Red Cross van.
The Salvation army also set up an emergency van and provided hot soup, sandwiches and coffee to the people at the scene.
Also assisting were volunteer nurses from Williamstown.
Commonwealth Telephone Co. ran special lines to the tragedy site and set up four special booths for news media and emergency call use.
David Minnich, Tower City, Civilian Defense director for the area, helped with the emergency measures required.
Trinity United Church of Christ and United Methodist Church members brought sandwiches and coffee to the Red Cross wagon.
The Red Cross obtained a service van from the Reading Red Cross unit. Irving Steinberger, Pottsville, transported volunteer nurses to the scene.
Women assisting were Mrs. Elizabeth Moser and Mrs. Beth Campbell, Pottsville: Mrs. Ross Rissmiller, Forest Hills: Mrs. Greta Sanner, Schuylkill Haven: Mrs. Irene Temple, Mrs. Jean Bair, Deanna Dietz, and Bobby Steranko of the Hegins area.
Also on the scene were Rev. James Flurer, past of Trinity United Church of Christ: Rev. Paul Rauch, pastor of the United Methodist charge: and the Rev. Father Robert Wargo of Pottsville.
Featured Image: Ambulances at the scene of the Porter Tunnel disaster in March 1977 – West Schuylkill Herald