West Virginians should be bursting at the seams with pride just a few days after their WVU Mountaineers made it to the Final Four in the college basketball tournament. Instead, the state is surrounded in a cloak of sadness today following another coal mining disaster that has most of us dumbfounded by the magnitude of the tragedy.
Nearing the end of the day shift yesterday, a blast ripped through the Big Branch Mine that snakes beneath rural Boone and Raleigh counties. The force of the blast killed seven miners riding on a mantrip as they finished their workday. In total, 25 miners have died and four are missing as of this morning. Rescuers plan to continue searching for survivors later today when methane levels decrease.
There should be no doubt that mining is a dangerous business. Anyone who travels miles into the earth probably understands the inherent risks, but they take pride in their work due to family ties and livable wages. But it should not be acceptable for a country as advanced as ours to endure such a tragedy. A disaster like this usually is reserved for countries with governments -- such as China -- that treat their workers like toy soldiers.
Instead, we have a mine and a company with numerous safety violations and past fatalities. There are few characters in the mining industry with such a poor reputation as Don Blankenship, who owns Massey Energy. You might remember his name from a few years ago when he whisked one of West Virginia's supreme court justices away on an all-inclusive vacation to Monte Carlo. Not long after the trip, the state supreme court ruled to overturn a $75 million decision that Blankenship was originally ordered to pay to a competitor.
That's sleazy, but it's still just money. What happened at 3 p.m. Monday has destroyed lives and families. In a country like ours, I don't understand why it's so readily accepted that people might die while trying to earn a paycheck.
UPDATE: 7:19 p.m. -- I thought ABC News did an excellent job covering this story tonight. Diane Sawyer spoke to a miner who was heading into Big Branch as the explosion happened. He described what it was like to watch his friend being carried out of the mine, which illustrated the heartbreak even for those who survived.
They also interviewed the wife of a miner killed in the blast and spoke to her son, who had just left his shift in the mine minutes before. He teared up as he talked about how badly he wished his father was standing on the porch with them. ABC did not sensationalize these stories, but merely let these people speak for themselves.
At the end, Sawyer interviewed Blankenship and she refused to let him off the hook. He looked contrite as though he realized that the magnitude of this storm might destroy his company. The anchorwoman finished the newscast with a story about why people in West Virginia do such dangerous work. The answer: It's in their blood.
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