Hope returns to PA community

BY RACHEL CLARK | SOMERSET COUNTY, PA | September 12, 2002



"The mine rescue, since the outcome was a positive one, has really uplifted the community."

—Rev. Mark Bendes


Somerset County, Pa., has seen its share of disasters.

In 1998, two tornadoes tore through the area, killing a young girl and destroying homes and businesses. The community pulled together to remove debris and restore property.

In 2001, Flight #93 slammed into the ground in Shanksville, killing all on board. Community members rallied to comfort families who had lost loved ones in the thwarted terrorist attack.

In 2002, nine men were trapped underground when 60 million gallons of water rushed from an abandoned mine to their working mine in Quecreek. The men spent 77 hours in the dark, chilly, mine until workers rescued them.

"The mine rescue, since the outcome was a positive one, has really uplifted the community," said the Rev. Mark Bendes of Somerset Church of the Brethren. "Whereas with the 9/11 crash, there was nothing that could be done, it was pretty hopeless. There was hope (with the mine accident), and the good Lord helped us see the realization of our prayers for them. I think that has lifted up the community and shown we are a community that does respond to need and continues to respond to need."

While rescue workers tried to reach the trapped men, local clergy counseled and encouraged their families. The American Red Cross, Salvation Army and local businesses and church groups provided food, drinks, counseling and other supplies to workers, families and the media. People across the world sent their love and prayers in support of the miners. The family members of Flight #93 victims encouraged the families of the miners to stay strong through an email.

"One of our workers found out that a child of one of the miners was having a birthday, so she got a birthday cake and presents and things and had a party for the child," said Joseph DeMichael of The Salvation Army."It was sort of a way to reach the family and help them understand that we really cared about them and wanted to help them."

Whatever the disaster, people have been quick to pull together and lend a helping hand to those in need.

"We've found that people just bonded together and trusted each other and God for everything happening," DeMichael said. "People just kept coming by and saying 'what can we do to help?' It was just unbelievable when you think it was just several months after the plane crash."

After the miners were unearthed, people worldwide dubbed the rescue a miracle. Local businesses posted signs that called the rescue a miracle from God.

"We helped, as a group from the church, the Red Cross do some work in having special services for the victims," said the Rev. John Buchko of the Church of the Nazarene in Somerset. "I think it's increased our faith; it's promoted prayer and faith in God that He has brought us through this."

Buchko said the miner incident affected the community differently than the 9/11 plane crash. In spite of the tense hours or waiting and prayer, at the end people felt joy that their prayers had been answered.

"The miner's incident was very hard," he said. "Those 72 hours or so were very difficult, not knowing that the endeavor would be successful, but there was such a great elation that the miners could be rescued."

After the 9/11 crash in Shanksville - which is about 8 miles from where the miners were trapped - many people felt hopeless to help. Area clergy say rescue workers and community members still feel a slight sense of despair.

"People are still reliving that they couldn't do anything about it," Bendes said. "They couldn't do anybody -- people who wanted to care for or help victims -- they couldn't help anybody."

Even though many are still haunted by the crash, that sense of futility has brought some closer to God.

"A pile of sadness was upon the community and churches," he said. "And this caused us to seek God and trust Him to bring us through."

Shortly after Flight #93 crashed, the worldwide media converged on the tiny town of Shanksville. Residents there handled the attention in stride.

"We got known positively for a community that pulls together and reaches out and goes the second mile to help others," Bendes said. "I hope it's known for that."

Buchko said the media's presence during the miner disaster may have been an annoyance to the miners and their families, but that in some ways they were a blessing because they kept everyone there abreast of what was happening.

Looking back on both disasters, Bendes said he has seen God working.

"The miners increased our faith," he said. "Our hopes for 9-11, well, we find we're still working with despair, but yet allowing God to continue to help the workers through it. It's still vivid for the men in the area."

The community held a memorial service Wednesday where Flight #93 crashed. Some 30,000 people attended.

The Salvation Army, American Red Cross, local churches and businesses coordinated a shuttle service to the site, refreshments and counseling for attendees.


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