The new suits allege that Massey had encountered roof control and flooding problems in part of the mine where officials hoped to be moving the longwall machine when it completed work on the panel of coal currently being mined. As a result, the company had to begin work on a new set of tunnels for the next longwall location.
"The longwall panel being mined on or about April 5, 2010, was nearing completion and the next full panel was well short of readiness for production as desired," one of the lawsuits alleged. "As a result, production and development pressures were placed on the mine managers at the mine and on the miners themselves."
"As a result of the production demands, the non-production work such as rock dusting, replacing and repairing the woeful condition of the longwall units' water sprays and bits was not performed even though mine safety laws require such work to be conducted upon discovery of the conditions," one of the suits said.
The new suits also accuse Massey of damaging potential evidence, noting the indictment of Performance Coal's security director, Hughie Elbert Stover, on charges that he tried to destroy evidence to hinder the government's disaster investigation.
The suits also note that company officials Chris Blanchard and Jason Whitehead were underground for an extended period of time after the explosion, but before official rescue teams arrived.
"Blanchard and Whitehead traveled to such deep areas of the mine that they were at or in close proximity to the longwall section which has now been designated by both the regulatory agencies and defendants as the ignition site and where vast amounts of critical evidence were located," one of the suits states.
The suits also allege that Blanchard and Whitehead had "first-hand knowledge that the explosion had killed all of the miners underground" but did not "fully inform the appropriate regulatory agency representatives, nor did they inform the families as they kept vigil on the mine site.
"Instead, the families and indeed the nation were allowed to sit through several days of vigil without being given information known to the defendants related to the fate of their loved ones," the lawsuit alleges.
Massey officials have praised Blanchard and Whitehead, saying they risked their lives going underground to find any survivors and did not disturb any evidence while they were in the mine.
Shane Harvey, Massey's general counsel, previously noted that Blanchard and Whitehead helped rescue two survivors, James Woods and Timothy Blake, from the mine. "Their efforts were heroic," Harvey said.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.