Inspection set for WVa tunnel that cost hundreds of lives

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, its owner said.

The 3.1 mile (5 kilometers) Hawks Nest Tunnel has diverted water from the New River to power a hydroelectric plant since the 1930s. Brookfield Renewable, the owner of the Hawks Nest Dam, said the inspection will determine whether repairs are needed.

To accommodate the inspection, a nearby reservoir will be lowered by 25 feet (7.6 meters) starting Sept. 8, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.

During the tunnel’s construction, thousands of workers were exposed to lethal concentrations of silica dust while drilling through the sandstone of Gauley Mountain. At least 764 men who built the tunnel died within five years of its completion, according to Martin Cherniack, a medical doctor who wrote a book about the incident.