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Thu Aug 13, 2020, 02:09 PM

Hawks Nest Tunnel to rise from the depths for first time in 85 years

Hawks Nest Tunnel to rise from the depths for first time in 85 years

By Rick Steelhammer Staff writer Aug 11, 2020

A worker stands outside the Hawks Nest Tunnel during construction in 1930.

Elkem Metals Collection, West Virginia State Archives

The Hawks Nest Tunnel, the 3.1-mile-long man-made channel through Gauley Mountain that exposed thousands of Great Depression-era workers to lethal concentrations of silica dust, is scheduled to be inspected for the first time since it began operating as a conduit for a hydroelectric plant in 1936.

A 25-foot draw-down of Hawks Nest Reservoir will begin Sept. 8 to accommodate the inspection, according to Brookfield Renewable, the owner of the Hawks Nest Dam. The lake will remain at the lowered level until Nov. 8, when the process of restoring it to its normal elevation will begin.


Some public access and recreation activities in the vicinity of the dam and powerhouse will be affected by the draw-down, including the tailrace fishing pier and parking area adjacent to the powerhouse, scheduled to temporarily close on Aug. 24. A hiking and biking trail stretching from a parking area near the W.Va. 16 bridge at Cotton Hill to the base of Hawks Nest Dam already is closed and will remain so through the duration of the inspection.


From the base of Hawks Nest Dam to Gauley Bridge, the 6-mile stretch of New River known as the “Dries” will be wetter than usual this fall because of the inspection, since no water will be diverted through the tunnel, which can handle up to 10,000 cubic feet per second. The full flow of the New will pass through the Dries during the inspection period.


The Hawks Nest Tunnel was completed months ahead of schedule by workers who labored six days a week on 10- to 12-hour shifts to drill and blast their way more than 3 miles through Gauley Mountain sandstone. The workers were issued no protective breathing gear to filter silica dust from the air.

According to Martin Cherniack, the medical doctor who wrote “The Hawks Nest Incident: America’s Worst Industrial Disaster,” at least 764 of the 1,213 people who worked in the tunnel for at least two months died from respiratory problems within five years of the tunnel’s completion.

The majority of the Hawks Nest workers were Black people from the South.


Reach Rick Steelhammer at
rsteelhammer@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5169 or follow
@rsteelhammer on Twitter.

The worst industrial health disaster in US history came about due to silica.

I'm pretty sure it's number one. It was the drilling of a tunnel for a hydroelectric facility on the New River in West Virginia. The workers dug their way through silica-containing sandstone to create the tunnel.

Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster


Gauley Bridge, West Virginia

38°07′20″N 81°07′42″W

occupational silicosis

476 to 5,000 (estimated)

The Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster was a large-scale incident of occupational silicosis as the result of the construction of the Hawks Nest Tunnel near Gauley Bridge, West Virginia, as part of a hydroelectric project. This project is considered to be one of the worst industrial disasters in American history.

Excavation of the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel, Gauley Bridge, WV, 1930-31, and Acute Silicosis

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Reply Hawks Nest Tunnel to rise from the depths for first time in 85 years (Original post)
mahatmakanejeeves Aug 13 OP
DarthDem Aug 13 #1

Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Thu Aug 13, 2020, 02:22 PM

1. What a horrible tragedy

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