Fighting for Justice in the Coalfields

Lexington Herald-Leader report on mine safety in decades after eastern Kentucky tragedy

Hundreds died in Kentucky coal mines in decades after mine blast exposed safety problems

By Bill Estep and John Cheves —

TOPMOST — One night in November 1981, Roy Conley saw an unusual glow around the electrical center at the small underground coal mine in Knott County where he worked, and he took it as a divine warning.

Conley kept it to himself for three weeks, but the worry was making him ill. He broke into tears when he finally told his wife: “I feel in my heart I’m going to get killed.”

He skipped the next work day at the Adkins Coal Co. mine at Topmost.

But with young children to feed and bills to pay, he went back on Dec. 7, 1981 — the day the mine blew up, killing eight men less than an hour into their shift.

It was the worst mine disaster in the county’s history.

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