Memorial planned for victims of 1963 Cane Creek Mine explosion
by Rudy Herndon
Staff Writer
Aug 22, 2013 | 4530 views | 0 0 comments | 74 74 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Peter Sviscsu left his Old World family behind in search of a better life, so none of his relatives were here to pay their respects when he died in 1963.

But on Aug. 27, people from as far away as Canada will gather in Moab to remember Sviscsu and 17 other men who perished during one of the worst mining disasters in modern American history.

That day marks the 50th anniversary of a deadly gas explosion at Texas Gulf Sulphur’s Cane Creek potash mine near Moab.

Kymberly Mele, whose father was among seven survivors, will be joining others during a public memorial at the Grand County Public Library, and will later attend a private event at the mine site.

“I think it will be very nice for the families, especially the children who don’t really remember their fathers because they were too young,” Mele said in an email to The Times-Independent. “Many of them are curious about the story and how things happened.”

Investigators with the federal Bureau of Mines believe that the explosion occurred in the mine’s shop area, where a mixture of highly flammable gases likely ignited.

At the time of the accident, 25 men were working about 3,000 feet below the surface of the mine, which was then under construction approximately 20 miles west of Moab.

But only seven of those workers found their way to safety behind a barricade that protected them from a noxious cloud of carbon monoxide.

Two of the survivors eventually reached a rescue team, but not before they stopped to repair a damaged air hose. In doing so, they likely saved the five other men from certain death, survivor Charles Byrge told the Deseret News in 1963.

A recovery team eventually reached the barricade, and some 50 hours after the explosion, the survivors reached the surface on Aug. 29, 1963.

Their appearance brought joy to the crowd that gathered at the site.

However, Mele wrote that one woman was stunned when she didn’t hear her husband’s name included among the survivors.

“They say he still has a good chance,” the woman said to those around her.

But there was no conviction in the woman’s voice, Mele wrote.

An hour or so after the last of the survivors emerged, the final announcement was made: seven men were alive, but 18 more were dead.

Those who died left behind 45 children under the age of 18, and another eight children who were 18 years old or older. Two of the miners’ widows were pregnant at the time.

Mele is encouraging anyone who would like to pay tribute to the victims, the survivors and their families to attend the Aug. 27 memorial at the library’s large meeting room. The event is scheduled to run from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

A private meeting for the victims’ families, as well as the survivors and their families, will be held at Intrepid Potash. Rick York, general manager of the Intrepid Potash plant on state Route 279, will host the gathering.

Family members should meet at the mine office at 4 p.m. Seating will be limited, so those who plan to attend are asked to contact Mele at 435-789-1975, or email, to reserve a spot.

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