Inspection Set For West Virginia Tunnel That Cost Hundreds Of Lives

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GAULEY BRIDGE, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia tunnel where hundreds of construction workers died from silica-choked passageways is set to undergo its first inspection in more than 80 years.

In the photo above, dust circles a worker during the construction of the Hawks Nest Tunnel in 1930. Workers on the project were exposed to toxic levels of silica dust; hundreds ultimately died.

The Hawks Nest Tunnel has diverted water from the New River to power a hydroelectric plant since the 1930s. Hawks Nest Dam owner Brookfield Renewable says the inspection will determine whether repairs are needed.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports that in order to accommodate the inspection, a nearby reservoir will be lowered by 25 feet starting Sept. 8.

During the tunnel’s construction, thousands of workers were exposed to silica dust. A book about the incident says at least 764 men died within five years of its completion.

Read and listen to “Before Black Lung, The Hawks Nest Tunnel Disaster Killed Hundreds” for more information about what is considered the one of this country’s deadliest construction worksites.