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Hughes Creek residents evacuated due to potential mine blowout

BELLE, W.Va. -- Residents in the Hughes Creek community in eastern Kanawha County were being asked to leave their homes late Friday night due to a potential mine blowout.

The state Department of Environmental Protection said in a statement that there were 150 homes affected by the “voluntary evacuation”; only a few homes were near the mine, according to DEP, but roads to the others could be covered by water and debris and cut off from emergency services.

Kanawha County emergency responders were helping with a “precautionary evacuation” of about 30 residents along Hughes Creek Road, according to C.W. Sigman, the county’s deputy emergency services director.

Residents said water had been pouring out of the abandoned mine for days.

Sigman said an abandoned mine near the Happytown area along Hughes Creek is threatened with a blowout because it’s filling up with water.

“It’s not blown out, but they’re thinking it may,” Sigman said late Friday night. He said he received a report of a potential problem with the mine from DEP around 7:40 p.m.

He said a blowout occurs when the water forces open the seals on a mine. He said he had heard the mine was last being used as a sludge storage area, though he didn’t have further details immediately available.

Kanawha Valley Regional Transportation Authority buses were being sent to homes in the area to transport residents to Riverside High School, where a temporary shelter was being established. Firefighters from the Glasgow Volunteer Fire Department are helping the effort, according to county Metro 911 dispatchers.

At Riverside High, Red Cross volunteer Dave Turner said about 40 people had signed into the shelter by midnight, but that number was down to about 20 by 1:30 a.m. Saturday.

Red Cross spokeswoman Krista Farley said the agency would be providing people with food and places to sleep. She said they were possibly expecting more buses with more evacuated residents later.

Hughes Creek residents gathered in the Riverside High cafeteria said that in recent days, there were more openings in the hillside where the abandoned mine was located, the openings were higher up on the hillside and more water -- which smelled like sulfur -- was coming out.

Janet Burke, who has lived in Hughes Creek her entire life, said the issue stretches back to at least 1994, when culverts were installed to divert water from the abandoned mine to the creek.

“DEP said it would dry up in a year. It’s been 21 years,” she said.

Her cousin, Wanda Mooney, also a lifelong Hughes Creek resident, said she reported the increased water to authorities on Sunday.

“Water was everywhere. It was flowing at the corner of my cousin’s home ... down across my property, going into the next-door neigbhor’s yard, and he was trying to keep it out of his garage,” Mooney said.

Authorities made a ditch through her property to try to divert the water into the creek, but the problem still got worse, she said.

Sigman said that, contrary to early reports, the mine is not owned by Alpha Natural Resources but is adjacent to a mine owned by the company.

In its statement, DEP said the mine has been discharging water since last weekend. The water has been muddying the water of five nearby residences. Earlier Friday, DEP said it would conduct dye testing in and near Hughes Creek in an attempt to find out the exact source of the water.

DEP “has been monitoring the mine discharge and overseeing construction of a ditch to divert water away from the homes. Today’s heavy rain, however, overwhelmed the ditch. Additionally, the amount of water discharging from the mine has increased,” the agency said in its statement.

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazette.com, 304-348-1254 or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.

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