Belgium to commemorate Bois du Cazier mining disaster of 1956

Belgium to commemorate Bois du Cazier mining disaster of 1956

On 8th August 1956 some 262 miners perished in the Bois du Cazier in Marcinelle.

They included 136 Italians, more than half the victims.

Today, the site is preserved as an industrial heritage site and a museum now stands on the site of the old mine.

The commemorations on 8th August will start at 8 am, almost the same time as the fire started destroying the mine that killed so many. In the main square of the old mine a bell donated by Italian bell makers was installed.

It will chime 262 times, once for each victim. A lone voice will then call out the names of the victims, one after another.

Former miners and relatives of victims’ families are expected to attend the commemoration. The victims came from 14 different countries but the majority were Italians. Antonio Tajani, a former MEP and president of the EU Parliament and now the Italian foreign minister, may also attend.

Very few of miners who worked at the pit are still alive.

The Bois du Cazier was a coal mine in what was then the town of Marcinelle, near Charleroi.

At 8.10 am disaster struck when a lifting mechanism was triggered before the coal car had been fully loaded into the cage. Two high voltage electric cables were broken, starting a fire. The fire was aggravated by the oil and air lines damaged by the mobile cage. Carbon monoxide and smoke spread along the galleries.

A few minutes later, seven workers managed to reach the surface, enveloped in thick black smoke. Despite many brave rescue attempts, only six other miners were saved from the mine.

The disaster triggered unprecedented emotion and solidarity in Belgium and abroad. The press, radio and television reported the 15 days of anguish that followed, the rescue operations with the help of the Gare Centrale de Secours Houillères du Nord-Pas-de-Calais and the Essen Rescue Center of the Ruhr.

Veteran Italian journalist Maria Laura Franciosi has researched the tragedy and was instrumental in setting up a museum on the site.

At the time she was working for ANSA, the Italian News Agency as a deputy chief of office and had some contacts with local journalists who helped her campaign to preserve the site of the devastated mine.


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