Hopes Dashed For a Miracle: Four Missing Miners Found Dead
April 10, 2010
(ChattahBox)—Their stories have yet to be told. But we know that the four Appalachian miners traveled deep underneath the earth, dealing with perilous conditions to feed their families and to ensure that the rest of us could turn on a light.The bodies of the dead miners were found late Friday night, dashing any hopes for a miracle. Their confirmed deaths now bring the death toll from the W.V. Upper Big Branch mine explosion to 29, making it the worst mining accident in 40 years.
West Virgina Gov. Joe Manchin told reporters early Saturday morning, “We did not receive the miracle that we prayed for. So this journey has ended and now the healing will start.”
Along with the healing, will be an investigation into the mining practices of Don Blankenship, chairman and CEO of Massey Energy, the owner of Upper Big Branch mine. “In the past year, federal inspectors fined the company more than $382,000 for repeated serious violations involving its ventilation plan and equipment at Upper Big Branch. The violations also cover failing to follow the plan, allowing combustible coal dust to pile up, and having improper firefighting equipment.”
West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin promised an investigation. “I don’t know what happened,” Manchin said. “We’re going to find out and do everything in our power to never let this happen again.” And President Obama demanded a preliminary report on the worst mining accident in a generation. Congressional lawmakers also plan to convene a panel to investigate the accident and the multiple safety violations committed by Massey Energy.
And much of the attention will be focused on the hard-hitting business practices of Don Blankenship who is accused of putting coal production above the safety of his workers. A 2005 memo to workers ordering them to ignore their bosses’ demands to perform safety-related tasks, read “ignore them and run coal.” “This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that the coal pays the bills,” Blankenship wrote.
The Upper Big Branch mine was so chocked with toxic methane gas after the explosion, that rescue workers initially walked past the bodies of the four missing miners, according to the Associated Press:
“The conditions were so rough after the blast that rescuers only late Friday realized that they had walked past the bodies of the four missing miners on the first day without seeing, a federal mine safety official said.There was so much smoke and the conditions were so dire with dust in the air that they apparently bypassed the bodies that were on the ground,” said Kevin Stricklin, coal administrator for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.”
After the last funeral is held and the last tear is shed, the families of the dead miners will be looking for answers. And when the smoke and toxic gas clears from the mine, the Appalachian miners will return to work.
Kevin Stricklin wants to make sure that the such an explosion never happens again. “No stone will be left unturned and we’ll find out the cause of this explosion,” Stricklin said. “Quite frankly, the only good thing that can come out of this is to educate everyone, put regulations in place to make sure that this never happens again.”
But, as Don Blankenship of Massey Energy has shown, regulations alone are not enough. He will gladly pay the fine, as a cost of doing business and “ignore them and run coal.” Blankenship ran the unions off of his mines years ago, leaving the workers at his complete mercy for their livelihood.
It’s time for the unions to return to the Appalachian coal mines.