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NATURAL RESOURCE DisastersChoice Board

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CentraliaMine Fire



knox minedisaster

Did you know that coal miners used to keep yellow canaries in the coal mine?

  • Yellow canaries were bright enough to see in the pitch dark mine
  • They were also loud and singing all the time
If it stopped singing or moving, everyone knew to get out!













Before you evacuate,complete the Padlet!

(Click the fire extinguisher)

On January 22, 1959, the Knox Mine disaster took place in Port Griffith, Pennsylvania. The Susquehanna River flooded an old coal mine owned by the Knox Coal Company. Twelve miners were killed, and eleven others were trapped for nearly a week before being rescued.The flooding occurred when the river broke through into the mine after miners accidentally broke through to the riverbed while excavating for the River Slope Mine. The company had previously been fined for breaking through to the river on two other occasions but did not take proper precautions to prevent it from happening again.When the flood occurred, many of the miners managed to escape, but some were trapped inside. Rescue efforts began immediately, but progress was slow due to the dangerous conditions. It took six days to reach the trapped miners, who were found alive but suffering from exposure and starvation.The Knox Mine disaster highlighted the dangers of mining and the need for improved safety regulations. It also led to changes in the way mines were operated and monitored to prevent similar accidents in the future.

On 28 March 1979, there was a serious accident at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant in Pennsylvania, USA. The accident happened because of a fault in the system that controls the temperature of the reactor. As a result, the reactor overheated and part of it melted. There was no explosion or fire, but some radioactive gas escaped into the atmosphere.The accident caused panic among local people, who were afraid that they might be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. About 140,000 people left the area, and many others stayed indoors for several days. In fact, only a small amount of radiation was released, and nobody suffered any ill effects as a result of the accident.However, the accident had a major impact on public opinion. Many people became very concerned about the safety of nuclear power plants, and there was a sharp fall in public support for the nuclear power industry. No new nuclear power plants have been built in the United States since the accident at Three Mile Island.

In 1962, a fire started in a mine under the town of Centralia, Pennsylvania. It was a small fire and people thought it wasn't dangerous. Then the fire spread to other parts of the mine, getting bigger and bigger over the years. Nobody knows for sure how the fire started. The most accepted hypothesis is coal dust was ignited by something.The fire burns in underground coal mines at depths of up to 300 feet over an 8-mile stretch of 3,700 acres. As of 2010, it continued to burn. At its current rate, it could burn for over 250 more years.When the fire reached the surface, smoke came out of the ground. This happened in many different places in the town. The air smelled bad and there was smoke everywhere. Some people had headaches and others felt sick. They went to the doctor but the doctors didn't know what was wrong with them. Then one day, a boy fell into a hole that was full of smoke. The boy's friends helped him get out. The Department of Health ordered everyone to leave the town.Now only a few people live in Centralia. Most of the houses are empty. There is still a lot of smoke and the ground is very hot. Sometimes the ground opens up and smoke comes out. You can see the smoke and you can smell it. Centralia is a ghost town.

  • Most people living nearby received an average radiation amount of a chest X-Ray.
  • 3 workers were overexposed to radiation
  • No adverse health affects
  • Conflicting studies on weather cancer cases increased due to disaster
    • General consensus is that 3 Mile did not cause increased rates of cancer.
  • Main public health concern was stress
  • Thousands of air, water, soil, and food samples taken
    • Found radiation was well contained to the plant, no major affects on ecosystem


Cleaning up inside the plant after the accident.

  • End of anthracite coal mining in Northeast Pennsylvania
  • 7,500 jobs lost
  • 10 people charged but most charges were dropped
  • Mining laws were updated due to the disaster
    • Rules about maps and safety plans
  • Large rail cars, mine cars, and coal debris were thrown in to plug the hole - pollution
  • Water near coal mine has red color due to breakdown of the rock which makes iron oxide.
  • Once Knox Coal Company went bankrupt, pumps were turned off which led to flooding.
  • Left acidic soil to be treated by government
    • Very few plants can grow


Throwing railroad cars and coal carts into the whirlpool to try to stop water from draining into the mine.

Last house in Centralia; 2001Owned by Joe Mayer, who worked in the Centralia Mines for 25 years.

  • Could burn for hundreds of years more!
  • Fire has devoured an area as big as 35 football fields - think of the organisms impacted
  • 2012: Only 10 people live there
    • Department of Health determined relocation of whole town was necessary due to health risks.
  • Air is poisoned with sulfur and carbon monoxide - and yes those 10 people breathe it!
  • Town could be swallowed by burning mine eventually
  • Contributes to world wide carbon dioxide emissions
  • Graffiti Road became an (illegal) attraction for people to visit
  • 111 deaths from fire


  • Exposed millions of people and animals to radiation
  • 200,000 people relocated for months after accident
  • Pyschological affects deemed worse than physical ones
  • 134 first responders diagnosed with Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS)
    • 28 died within 4 months
    • 19 more over 20 years
  • Difficult to track long-term health effects, but no town occupants obtained ARS from the accident.
  • Genetically modified animals
    • Dogs have increased cataracts
    • Most deformed farm animals did not reproduce
    • Many animals moved away from disaster site


Chernobyl dogs, the descendents of the dogs from the disaster who are being studied for genetic modifications.

On April 26, 1986, at 1:23 a.m., reactor number four at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine exploded. It was the worst nuclear accident in history.The explosion happened during a safety test. The test went wrong and there was a sudden power surge. This led to a series of explosions that destroyed the reactor and the building around it. For ten days, radioactive materials were released into the atmosphere. They spread across Europe and as far as the United States.Immediately after the explosion, two workers died from the explosion itself. Another 29 people died in hospital in the following weeks. Some 600,000 workers – known as liquidators – were sent to clean up the site. Many of them received very high doses of radiation.In total, it is estimated that around 4,000 people died as a result of the disaster. The long-term health effects of the radiation are still not clear. There have been many reports of increased rates of cancer and birth defects among those affected by the accident.