Emergency crews remain on the scene of an 11-story building that collapsed around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday near Middlefork Wolfe Creek Road in Martin County. Kentucky Emergency Management (KEM) said in a news release on Wednesday that the building is a tall coal sorting structure at Martin Mine Prep Plant.
Martin County Sheriff John Kirk told Nexstar’s WOWK that personnel were trying to free two workers who were trapped, and KEM said that the two were underneath multiple floors of concrete and steel.
Around 10:15 a.m. Wednesday, Gov. Beshear said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that at least one of the workers had died.
During a news conference on Wednesday, Martin County Judge Executive Lon Lafferty said the two men were from Pike County and believed to be working for Skeens Contracting from Pikeville.
State Sen. Phillip Wheeler, whose district includes Martin County, said in a statement that he was saddened by the news.
“This incident is a stark reminder of the inherent risks in any job and the unexpected nature of tragedy,” Wheeler said. “The General Assembly and I are closely monitoring the situation. We are prepared to assist those affected by loss or injury and their families and the local government in any way we can.”
The workers were trapped while working to demolish the building at the abandoned mine site on Wolf Creek, Lafferty said in a social media post early Wednesday.
Martin County Sheriff John Kirk told WHAS-TV that first responders made contact with one of the trapped men, but he died shortly afterward. The plant hasn’t been in use for several years and the men were on the bottom floor when it collapsed, trapping them beneath tons of rubble, Kirk said.
“We never were able to locate the other (man), still haven’t been able to locate (him),” Kirk said Wednesday. “We are still attempting to locate him, we are still considering this a rescue operation.”
Several rescuers were inside the rubble as part of the rescue effort, Kirk said. The rescue could take days, Kirk said.
“This is a lot of weight. A lot of large metal structures, a lot of concrete, and very confined space last. Very tight spaces,” he said.
Lafferty described the scene as “horrific” and compared it to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and Jeremy Slinker, Director of Kentucky Emergency Management, compared it to a candle factory disaster where several workers died when a tornado leveled the building.
Slinker said KEM will continue to give first responders and authorities in Martin County whatever they need during the rescue efforts and might have to reach out to other states if the rescue effort goes beyond what they can handle. He also said communication is one of the biggest challenges because some of the areas have no cell or internet service.
Gov. Beshear signed an executive order Wednesday morning to send resources to help rescue the trapped workers.
“I have signed an Executive Order declaring a State of Emergency in Martin County following the collapse of a coal preparation plant,” Beshear said. “Two workers are trapped inside, and a number of teams are working to rescue these individuals. The order mobilizes state resources to help. Kentucky, please join Britainy and me in praying for their safety and for the brave teams working to rescue them. We will share more information as available.”
Beshear also added, “Kentucky, keep praying – but the scene is bad and we should be prepared for tough news out of Martin County.”
Kentucky Emergency Management, Jefferson County Urban Search and Rescue, Lexington Fire Department Special Operations Unit, the National Guard’s Special Tactics Squadron K9 search dog, and the Northern Kentucky Technical Rescue Team are all on the scene.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.