NEW IBERIA, La. (AP) –Two women have sued the operator of a Louisiana salt mine where a roof collapse killed their husbands a year ago.
Genee Romero and Alexandra Patin said in nearly identical lawsuits that Cargill Inc. officials and supervisors ignored both the danger and at least one worker’s warning that a collapse was close, the Lafayette Daily Advertiser reported.
Rene Romero Jr., 41, and Lance Begnaud, 27, died Dec. 14, 2020, “in a failed attempt to hurriedly and unsafely preserve profitable salt mining operations at the mine,” according to the suits filed in state court in Iberia Parish.
They claim the men were in an area barricaded because of previous roof collapses and “torrential” water leakage, KLFY-TV reported.
The two were among 18 workers in the mine on Avery Island, where Tabasco sauce is made. The company that makes the popular hot sauce leased the mine to Cargill. Hot sauce company spokeswoman Jennifer Mestayer said she could not comment because she had no information about the alleged incident.
Cargill cannot comment on pending litigation but is cooperating with the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s investigation, spokesman Daniel Sullivan said in an email to The Associated Press.
“We continue to be heartbroken by last year’s tragic accident that resulted in the death of two employees at our Avery mining facility,” he wrote.
Cargill closed the mine immediately for rescue work and closed it permanently six weeks after the collapse. The company said at the time that it was already planning to shut down the mine, which had 200 employees, when its lease ran out at the end of 2020.
The lawsuits are on behalf of the women and their children–three daughters of Patin and Begnaud, one daughter of the Romeros.
They are asking damages for loss of companionship and support and suffered anxiety and grief. Patin and two of her daughters and Romero and her daughter also claim they are due “bystander damages” after waiting at the scene during rescue and recovery efforts.
Louisiana law bars specifying a dollar amount in most lawsuits for damages.
A preliminary report from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said Romero and Begnaud were drilling to stop a water leak when the roof collapsed near a fault in the rock.
The agency had cited the mine 50 times in 2020 for safety violations, The Advocate reported shortly after the accident.
Louisiana’s salt deposits are in “salt domes”–columns that rise for miles (kilometers) from larger deposits deep underground, emerging like islands in surrounding wetlands.
In 1980, a drilling rig punched into a mine under Lake Peigneur, about 7 miles (11 kilometers) northwest of Avery Island, flooding the mine. The 50 men in the mine and seven on the rig all escaped safely.
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