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A coal mine, run by the former operators of the Kentucky Darby mine where a 2006 explosion killed five miners, closed for nine days in May after a surprise federal safety inspection uncovered dozens of safety violations.

“This is really serious stuff,” said federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) chief Joseph Main. “These are the kind of conditions that lead to mine explosions.”

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The May 16 inspection of K and D Mining Inc.’s Mine No. 17 in Harlan County found little or no ventilation where miners were working, thick accumulations of coal dust that can cause black lung and explosions, a broken methane gas warning light, conveyor belts covered in coal dust that was as much as 9 inches deep in places and rubbing against metal (a potential fire danger), and a mining machine with 22 electrical violations hazards and clogged water sprays.

An inspector at one point wrote the mine operator “has engaged in aggravated conduct constituting more than ordinary negligence.” Other citations repeatedly noted K and D’s “reckless disregard” for safety.

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The main track into the mine was not properly maintained, miners were working under unsupported roofs, fire suppression equipment failed to work, the backup power generator for the mine did not start, trash and other combustible material piled up in one of the mine’s escape routes, and the locations of breathing devices were not properly marked, MSHA inspectors found.

In all, K and D ended up with 43 citations and orders, including an order to close until they fixed the safety violations. The mine reopened May 25, Main said.

“We should not be mining coal like this in this day and age in this country, when we know the consequences when these kinds of conditions exist,” Main said.

Civil penalties are not yet available for the violations. MSHA records do show the mine has had $487,837 in penalties since 2010, and hasn’t paid any of that total.

K and D is run by Ralph Napier, John D. North and Jack H. Ealy.

Napier and North were the operators of Kentucky Darby Mine No. 1 in Harlan County, where a methane blast on May 20, 2006, killed five miners. MSHA found Kentucky Darby improperly sealed a section of the mine, failed to follow proper methods for repairing the seal and failed to train miners in using escapeways and breathing equipment.

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