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No survivors found in WV mine

Faith-based organizations sponsor formal and informal response to worst mine accident in more than 25 years.

BY JIM SKILLINGTON AND SANDIE GARCIA | MONTCOAL, WV | April 10, 2010


"This is all very sadů there is a lot of prayer going on right now"

—Glenna Bailey, Sundail Assembly of God


The vigil for four missing miners caught in the deadliest U.S. mine accident in 40 years ended early Saturday when searchers reached their bodies. "We did not receive the miracle we prayed for," West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin.

Monday afternoon a major explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in Raleigh County killed 29 and injured two other miners.

Faith-based organizations have been active in the community since the blast. On Monday seven United Methodist pastors met with the families of many of the victims and both the West Virginia Council of Churches and United Methodist Bishop Ernest Lyght were amongst church organizations issuing prayers for the families. The Council of Churches has established a fund for the families of the victims.

Other area churches organized prayer vigils. Sundail Assembly of God in Montcoal was amongst the local churches inviting prayer.

“While nobody from our congregation was in the mine, many had friends who were,” said Glenna Bailey, the church’s secretary. “You either work in the mines or you know people who do.”

“This is all very sadů there is a lot of prayer going on right now,” she added.

Local store owners were also reeling from the disaster. Margaret White works at the Country General store, just a few miles from the mine.

“I see the men that work there every day. I know what kind of biscuit they want,” she told a WV television station. “I can't believe this happened. They all knew me by name, even if I didn't know theirs.”

The mine, owned by Massey Energy Company of Richmond Virginia, has been the scene of a number of safety violations in recent years.

Frustrations grew as recuers continued to find ways to reach the missing miners and Massey CEO Don Blankenship, was escorted into a press conference by a dozen police officers. While he spoke, people yelled at him for caring more about money than miners’ wellbeing.

“We want answers, we want them today, we’re very, very upset,” said Michelle McKinney, who lost her 62-year-old fatherin the blast. “They’re a big company, why did I have to find out from news reports that he died?”

The cause of the blast remains unknown, however; safety officials said the mine has a history of violations for not properly ventilating highly combustible methane gas. The accident rate at the mine has been higher than the national average in seven of the last 10 years.

In mines, giant fans are used to keep methane gas concentrations below certain levels. It is difficult to detect without help, as it is both colorless and odorless. If concentrations are allowed to build up, the gas can explode with a spark that is similar to the static charge created by walking across a carpet in winter. This also happened in 2006, in the Sago Mine in West Virginia, where 12 miners died in a methane explosion.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced a probe into the accident. "Twenty-five hardworking men died unnecessarily in a mine Monday," said Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. "The very best way we can honor them is to do our job. MSHA's investigation team is committed to finding out what happened, and we will take action."

This explosion is the deadliest mine disaster in the United States since 197, when 38 people died in a coal dust blast near near Hyden, Ky.


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11 miners trapped in most recent blast

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