Courrières Mine Disaster

The Courrières mine disaster, Europe's worst mining accident, caused the death of 1,099 miners (including many children) in Northern France on 10 March 1906.

It seems that this disaster was surpassed only by the Benxihu Colliery accident in China on April 26, 1942, which killed 1,549 miners. A dust explosion, the cause of which is not known with certainty, devastated a coal mine operated by the Compagnie des mines de houille de Courrières (founded in 1852) between the villages of Méricourt (404 killed), Sallaumines (304 killed), Billy-Montigny (114 killed), and Noyelles-sous-Lens (102 killed) about two kilometres (one mile) to the east of Lens, in the Pas-de-Calais département (about 220 km, or 140 miles, north of Paris).

A large explosion was heard shortly after 06:30 on the morning of Saturday 10 March 1906. An elevator cage at Shaft 3 was thrown to the surface, damaging pit-head workings; windows and roofs were blown out on the surface at Shaft 4; an elevator cage raised at Shaft 2 contained only dead and unconscious miners.

The “Courrières catastrophe”, in the cobweb of mineshafts below the villages mentioned in this article, was preceded by a lot of smoke and the detection of toxic gases in the mine in the days before the explosion. The company was warned by a union delegate, but refused to stop production: 1099 of the 1800 miners who were ordered to continue work despite the evident danger on 10 March 1906 died in the disaster. In contempt of the trapped miners, the company called off the rescue operation after only 3 days and walled up access to where the miners were trapped, in order to protect the remaining coal-faces from potential fire.