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Second worker dies during rescue effort at Ky. coal plant collapse

Two workers were killed when the 11-story abandoned building collapsed while being prepared for demolition

Kentucky Plant Collapse

Kentucky Emergency Management Director Jeremy Slinker speaks to members of the media about the rescue operation underway for a worker trapped inside a collapsed coal preparation plant in Martin County, south of Inez, Ky., on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023. Officials said one worker died. (Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader via AP)

Ryan C. Hermens/AP

By Leah Willingham
Associated Press

MARTIN COUNTY, Ky. — The second of two workers trapped under a coal mine preparation plant that collapsed earlier this week in eastern Kentucky has died, Gov. Andy Beshear announced Friday.

“This is a heartbreaking situation,” the Democratic governor wrote on social media, calling for prayers for the men’s loved ones.

The two men — identified as Billy Ray Daniels and Alvin Nees — were trapped under rubble at the Martin Mine Prep Plant in Martin County after an 11-story abandoned building crashed down around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. The men were on the scene completing work to prepare for its demolition.

Daniels was originally located alive, but officials announced Wednesday that he died during rescue efforts. Crews worked around the clock for days digging through steel and concrete wreckage to find Nees, 57. Martin County Judge Executive Lon Lafferty said at a press conference earlier Friday the Nees family was “still holding out hope and prayer” that he would be found alive.

“They are very strong in their faith and their convictions in God,” he said, adding: “Obviously, it’s a very, very trying time.”

Lafferty said the families of both men had been to the site. His team spent time with the families Thursday, which he described as a “very, very tough, emotional day.”

Although officials briefly made contact with Daniels before his death, authorities said they had not had any communication with Nees since the building collapsed in Inez, a town of about 500 people about 160 miles (258 kilometers) east of Frankfort. Daniels and Nees are from neighboring Pike County.

Director of Kentucky Emergency Management Col. Jeremy Slinker said Friday the collapse might be the largest structural collapse in Kentucky history.

“We recognize how large of an operation and how unique this is — especially for rural Kentucky — because it’s just not what you think of when you think of large structural collapses,” he said.

He said workers have been working grueling shifts around the clock delving through layers of steel and concrete “section by section.” The Red Cross and local churches have provided food and other relief on-site.

“We’re doing the best we can to limit fatigue that would get to any level of dangerous, but it’s challenging work,” Slinker said.

The state environmental response team came in Thursday night to search the site for areas of “potential contamination” and took samples from the site for testing to monitor for any toxic materials or other safety hazards, Slinker said. He said they’ve been instructed by the environmental response team on how to mitigate the amount of dust workers are exposed to while scraping through the rubble.

Crews combed through voids under the wreckage with search dogs and listening devices Wednesday and Thursday, a line of emergency vehicles surrounding the wreckage of the once 11-story building, now flattened onto itself. In the second full day of rescue efforts, officials are using heavy equipment to remove the debris into smaller piles for the search, Lafferty said.

Several state agencies have begun investigations into the collapse and possible causes, including Kentucky state police.

The Kentucky Division of Occupational Safety and Health Compliance said one of its officers was on site and that an inspection had been opened with Lexington Coal Company LLC, which had contracted with Skeens Enterprises LLC for site demolition and salvage operations. The division said the investigation could take up to six months to complete.

EARLIER: ‘We haven’t given up hope': Officials provide update on rescue efforts at Ky. plant collapse