Saturday, June 25, 2005

Centralia, PA

I finished my last book during my trip to Toronto, and as I had nothing to read, I borrowed a book from a friend who I was staying with:

It chronicles an older man's walk along the historic Appalachian Trail, and his observations about America during his hike. Frequently, his observations are critical and poignant. I am thoroughly enjoying the book.

On page 187 of this book, the author passes through a section of eastern Pennsylvania, and he lists the names of the depressing towns he travels through - Port Carbon, Minersville, Slatedale...

I've been to Minersville. This person lived in a town - Pottsville - 5 kilometres away. He had an account with the Minersville Bank. I helped him move to this part of the world. Minersville is just as sad a town as the author makes it out to be.

This fact is not so interesting in itself. But what is fascinating, strange, and eery all at once is the author's side trip to an abandonded town nearby - Centralia.

Centralia is approximately 15 kilometres from Pottsville or Minersville, although it barely exists on a map anymore.

It seems as though this part of Pennsylvania sits atop one of the richest deposits of a coal ore (anthracite) in the world. Pennsylvania is still the biggest coal producer for the US - and that's why my friend got a job working there.

Centralia, like all these little towns, was a coal mining town. In 1962, an exposed coal seam was unknowingly lit on fire, and the coal seam ran directly underneath the town. From time to time, smoke would rise from the ground in Centralia, as the fires continued unabated.

Still, no one thought anything of this subterranian inferno until the late 1970s, when people in the town started reporting that their basement walls were hot to the touch. The incident apparently garnered national attention when a boy playing a backyard was almost swallowed up by an 75 foot deep hole that suddenly appeared.

It seems that the coal fire had caused a massive underground cavern to form, and Centralia was starting to sink into the ground. In the early 80s, the US government determined it would be too expensive to put the fire out, and so the town was evacuated.

(Blogger is not posting images right now, but a good picture of what the fire has done to the highways can be seen here)

Today, a few souls still live in Centralia, despite the smoke rising from the ground daily, and the fact that the roads and highways are blistered and crevassed from the coal fire.

It is estimated that the coal fire will continue for another 1000 years.

This is a bizarre story. For a good history of the town and many more pictures, go to this website.


In other news, the Herald ran my letter about banning free bibles in schools. Mine and other letters are found here.


Blogger Mark said...

It's 5 am. I've been working since 11 am (previous day). I have to be at work by 10 am today/tommorrow (whatever). I'm still far more satisfied with where I am right now, than the eternity (2 1/2 weeks, acccording to Pottsville Standard Time)that I spent in that God-forsaken part of our Earth.

1:08 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

You've gotta quit that job.

5:25 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

I was actually in Centralia. You can smell the burning there. There is another town called Centersville where you could see an outcropping coal seam burning. The area was turned into a dump. It was pretty cool, aside from the health risks. As far as I understood, it would have been a massive undertaking to put the underground fires out. The seam ran down a few hundred feet. It would have meant excavating a huge pit bigger than most open pit mines, and abandoning a few other towns in the area. It is near impossible to acheive.

4:49 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

Did the book mention how the coal seam caught fire? I heard it was from a lightning strike.

4:50 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

The seam was exposed near the site of the town's dump. When a fire was lit in the dump (it's unkown how the fire was started), the seam caught fire, as well. It took months for people to realize that the seam was burning.

The book provides a great history.

5:12 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

We are getting off the topic, aren't we? Weren't we discussing how much Pottsville sucks? Because I gotta tell ya', Pottsville really sucks. I've seen towns that suck before, but Pottsville is the suckiest, suck that ever sucked.

4:11 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

Mark, I thought everything didn't suck when you are drunk all the time.

5:32 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Shit Dude,

That was kind of harsh.

4:17 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

So you weren't drunk in Pottsville when I got home to meet you?

7:36 AM  

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