Montcoal, WV Mining Disaster, Apr 2010
NO SURVIVORS FOUND AFTER WEST VIRGINIA MINE DISASTER.
Montcoal, W. Va. - An agonizing four-day wait came to a tragic end early Saturday morning when rescue workers failed to find any survivors in an underground mine after a huge explosion earlier this week.
The news at the Upper Big Branch mine about 30 miles south of Charleston brought the death toll to 29 in the country's worst mine disaster in four decades.
"We did not receive the miracle we were praying for," said Gov. Joe Manchin III, looking somber, his voice barely audible. "This journey
has ended and now the healing will start."
The announcement closed a grim Appalachian ritual and the third major mining disaster in the state in the past four years.
Grim faced and exhausted, rescue workers emerged from the mine around midnight after spending much of the evening wending their way through a labyrinth of cross-passageways more than 1,000 feet underground.
It took about three hours before the rescue team could get to all the men, mining officials said. The names of the dead were not released. Twenty-eight of the dead were Massey employees, and one was a contract worker, a company spokesman said.
After Monday's explosion left 25 dead and 4 missing, state and federal officials tried to tamp down expectations, saying it was highly unlikely that any of the missing miners would be found alive. But a sliver of hope remained until early Saturday morning, when state officials said that the rescue mission was finally shifting to a recovery mission.
Crews will soon begin the bleak task of trying to recover all 22 bodies still inside the mine. Seven other bodies were recovered after the blast Monday and two other miners were injured.
Rescue efforts had been an agonizing 100-hour exercise in frustration as the teams repeatedly inched their way through tangled debris and fallen rock only to have to withdraw because of explosively high levels of methane and carbon monoxide.
Above ground, the miners' families waited for word. Passing much of the week sequestered from the news media, they huddled together in an open-air warehouse on the mine's sprawling property, eating pizza, whispering consolations to each other, and sometimes praying.
While rescue efforts continued, company and state officials had been reluctant to release the names of the dead and missing, a move that angered many families longing for closure.
The death toll caused by Monday's explosion was the highest in an American mine since a 1970 explosion killed 38 at Finley Coal Company, in Hyden, Ky. The blast at Upper Big Branch comes four years after a pair of other West Virginia mine disasters - an explosion that killed 12 miners at the Sago mine and a fire that killed two at the Aracoma Alma coal mine.
"We remained hopeful the four missing miners would have been found alive," Don Blankenship, the chief executive of Massey Energy, the mine's operator, said in a statement. "I personally met with many of the families throughout the week and share their grief at this very painful time."