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Mining Tragedy

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Unfortunately, it seems the situation with the trapped miners in Tallmansville, WV has turned out horribly. When I went to bed last night, there had been one body found in the Sago Mine, but hope remained for the others. This morning, the news is that 12 of the 13 men were found dead. Evidently, at some point late last night, the families were mistakenly told that 12 of the miners were actually alive. But “the first announcement, of a ‘miracle,’ was the result of a ‘miscommunication,’ a company official said,” according to a Washington Post article. “The new announcement came at roughly 3 a.m., interrupting and then silencing celebratory church bells in this small town and leaving relatives of the miners in shock, grief and anger… The 12 others were found deeper into the mine, barricaded in what turned out to be a futile attempt at survival.”

Ultimately, the sole survivor of the accident, Randy McCloy Jr., was in critical condition and being transported Wednesday to West Virginia University Hospital in Morgantown after being stabilized at nearby St. Joseph’s Hospital. 

As a native of Kentucky, coal mining communities have a special place in my consciousness. I grew up in central Kentucky, not in the mountains, but any person from the Bluegrass State who is even remotely aware of the area’s history has to recognize the role coal mining played in the development of the state. Harry M. Caudill’s Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area is an engrossing historical text that explains the Appalachian coal region from a resident’s perspective. I would imagine that communities such as Tallmansville, WV share many similarities with the Kentucky counties Caudill examines.

Hard-working, determined, and often with no other options, these men bravely and stoically crawl deep into the earth for mining jobs. “Wherever coal has been mined a blight has fallen upon the land and upon the habitations of men,” Caudill writes. Mining occupations are some of the most dangerous jobs on the planet. According to the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, World War I left 10 million corpses in its trail, however, American soldiers were statistically safer on European battlefields than coal miners in West Virginia during the same time period.

And unfortunately, as we see from the tragedy in Tallmansville, it’s still pretty dangerous. Although there have been improvements in safety conditions, a CNN report stated “according to the U.S. Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration, 242 miners died nationally in mining accidents in 1978; in 2003, 55 miners died in mining accidents.” The CNN article also contains a fact that is looking more and more ominous now that this tragedy has occurred: “the Sago Mine was cited 208 times over alleged safety violations in 2005, up from 68 citations the year before.”

Our hearts go out to the affected families. Please keep the victims and their families in your thoughts and, if you’re that kind of person, say a prayer for them.