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Recovery effort ends: Green Brothers Gravel workers pulled from muck, investigation begins

CRYSTAL SPRINGS, MISS– Workers pulled the second body out from the pit at Green Brothers Gravel in Crystal Springs Saturday, bringing the weeklong process of recovery two lost miners to an end. 

The body of James “Dee” Hemphill was recovered on Thursday, nearly one week after the dam collapsed and trapped two men and their equipment in the bottom of the pit in which they worked. While the coroner has not yet released the name of the second worker, the family said the body belonged to Emmitt Shorter.

With the oversight of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, “Mississippi Task Force 2” search and rescue team recovered both workers after eight days to bring closure to the families involved in this incident.

“As tragic of an incident that occurred here at Green Brothers Gravel Company, it shows the support and love Mississippians have for one another,” said Copiah County Emergency Management Director Randle Drane.  “The entire Copiah County community will be stronger because of this incident.  Both the Copiah County and Mississippi Emergency Management agencies would like to express our condolences and offer our prayers to the families of both workers.”

Dozens of volunteer groups, including the Hopewell Volunteer Fire Department, local churches, the Salvation Army and American Red Cross, gave valuable time and resources during this incident.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration will conduct a thorough investigation of the accident.

On June 3 at approximately 11:30 a.m. there was a dam breach above the gravel pit where the men were working which caused a massive landslide.  As a result, the men and their equipment were buried in more than 10 feet of thick sludge and slurry.

Green Brothers Company and the MSHA were in control of the recovery operation with support provided by Copiah County and the state as requested through a unified command.

The Mississippi Department of Public Safety implemented the “Mississippi Emergency Access Program” (MEAP) in this incident. The MEAP issued credentials and placards to all organizations needing access to the scene and tracked their entry and exit through mobile software.

The first efforts to retrieve the men failed. A road had to be built for a 230 ton crane, according to MEMA. Then large pumps were brought in to pump the waste away, allowing divers to locate the bodies.

When James Hemphill’s body was found, it took five hours to remove it from the cab of the excavator in which he was found.

“In order to not compromise the body,” said Ray Coleman, with MEMA. “The workers chose to dig him out by hand, because of the mud and sludge in the cab. They wanted to do right by the families, and be respectful. So they hand dug him out, which took about five hours.”

Funeral arrangements have been made for Hemphill for 2 p.m. June 16, at Springhill Baptist Church in Martinsville, Miss. Visitation is at the church from noon to 2 p.m.

The recovery of the second body, not yet named by the coroner, has sparked the beginning of the investigation that will show how this tragedy happened in the first place. The results of that investigation could take months to emerge.

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