INEZ, Ky. — One man is dead after a structure collapsed at an abandoned eastern Kentucky coal preparation plant. Gov. Andy Beshear, D-Ky., announced the death around 10:20 a.m. Wednesday morning. 

State Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, who represents the district, issued a statement after news of the death. “This morning, like many, I’m deeply saddened by the tragic news of a building collapse in Martin County, resulting in injury and the loss of a precious life,” he said. “We are prepared to assist those affected by loss or injury and their families and the local government in any way we can.”

Crews are working to rescue one man who remains trapped in the rubble.

Various agencies update the media about the collapse at the Martin Mine Prep Plant. One person was killed and crews are attempting to rescue a second man. (Spectrum News 1/Sabriel Metcalf)

The collapse of an 11-story coal sorting structure at Martin Mine Prep Plant was reported around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and Martin County Sheriff John Kirk said first responders found and contacted one of the two men who were working in the building. State emergency management officials are at the scene working with partner agencies including urban search and rescure and technical rescue teams. The extent of the other man's injuries are not known.

In a social media post earlier in the morning, Beshear said he had declared a state of emergency in the county — mobilizing state resources to help with the rescue.

According to the Mountain Citizen, a news organization in Martin County, the plant hasn’t been in use for several years and the men were salvaging material from the building when it collapsed. The men were part of a contracting team disassembling and salvaging equipment at the idled preparation plant and were on the first floor when the tipple fell. A tipple is a structure used to extract coal. 

Kirk told a Louisville television station 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 trying to free the worker, Kirk said. The rescue could take days, he added.

“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. “Any time you put a rescuer in that situation, you’re putting his life in danger.” 

Kentucky Emergency Management Director Jeremy Slinker is on scene and coordinated response efforts with several agencies. Those include:

  • Jefferson County Urban Search and Rescue
  • Lexington Fire Department Special Operations Unit
  • The National Guard’s Special Tactics Squadron K9 search dog
  • The Northern Kentucky Technical Rescue Team

Here is a timeline of the events that happened. 



President Lyndon Johnson visited Inez during his “War On Poverty” in 1964.

In 2000, a coal-sludge impoundment in Inez collapsed, sending an estimated 300 million gallons into the Big Sandy River and its tributaries. A byproduct of purifying coal, the sludge oozed into yards and streams for miles in what was considered one of the South’s worst environmental disasters at the time.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.