26 Mar 2013
THE MARCINELLE COAL MINE TRAGEDY
Marcinelle is a Walloon town near the Charleroi (Belgium). It's a rather sad place because one of the most important coal mine catastrophes took place here in 1956.
In the years 50 and 60, Belgium needed badly miners, and 200 000 immigrants arrived in Belgium from Italy. Belgium had an agreement with Italy to exchange labor against coal. In 1956, a total of 44,000 Italians worked in the mines of Belgium. They were promised a lot, houses good salaries etc but the truth was different.
Never had the mine claimed as many victims in exchange for the coal extracted from its bowels as on 8th August 1956 at the Bois du Cazier. As a result of human error, a fire rapidly spread to the whole mine. A total of 262 men, of 12 different nationalities (including 136 Italians and 95 Belgians) lost their lives, leaving hundreds of widows and orphans. This resulted in an end to Italian immigration into Belgium and stricter regulations on safety at work.
The day of the catastrophe
The entrance today
You still can see the huge wheels which held the lifts going into the mine
Some of the buildings are still standing on the site and can be visited
In the mine
The Italian immigrants lived in these metallic hangars, very cold in winter and very hot in summer.
In these narrow shafts the miners worked the whole day
Still to be seen is the control board and the only telephone which connected the outside world to the miners in the shafts. The clock stood still when the incident happened. The miners could only be identified with these numbered buttons, no name was on them. It made it very hard to find the corresponding names to these numbers.
At the beginning there was not even running water, showers came later
There is a memorial with the pictures of the dead miners which the Italian families had given for this little chapel.
and some very touching sculptures
Currently, the mine is a museum dedicated to the disaster, as well as the history of the region through the Industrial Revolution and, of course, to coal in general.