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West Virginia Miners

Wednesday, January 4th, 2006 · 5 Comments

Here’s what really happened:

12 of 13 W. Va. Miners Confirmed Dead:

TALLMANSVILLE, W.Va. – In a stunning and heartbreaking reversal, family members were told early Wednesday that 12 of 13 trapped coal miners found were dead — three hours after they began celebrating news that they were alive.

The devastating new information shocked and angered family members, who had rejoiced with Gov. Joe Manchin hours earlier when a rumor began to spread that 12 miners were alive. Rescue crews found the first victim earlier Tuesday evening.

“They knew the odds that were against us, and with that, to have the ending as it did with this high euphoria, I can only say there was no one who did anything intentionally other than risk their lives to save their loved ones,” Manchin told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

The sole survivor of the disaster, identified by mining officials as 27-year-old Randal McCloy, was hospitalized in critical condition early Wednesday, a doctor said. When he arrived, he was unconscious but moaning, the hospital said.

This, despite earlier news that only one of the trapped miners had been killed. Newspapers landing on doorsteps across America this morning look like this front-page story from today’s Washington Post:


There are two things about this story I simply don’t understand: First, how could they get the news so wrong and let down so many people? Secondly, in this modern age of technology — we send people to the moon — why can’t we dig 13 people out of a hole? I know it was deep, but give me a break. Are we really that advanced if we lose 12 people because we can’t dig fast enough? I’m not blaming the rescue crews — I know they tried their best — or anyone in particular.. I’m just saying… why don’t we have the means to dig faster? Or why don’t coal mines have alternate escape routes?

Here’s another idea: If we all drove hybrid cars (I’m guilty, too) and installed solar panels on our rooftops, then maybe we could wean ourselves off our reliance on fossil fuels and these poor guys wouldn’t have to lose their lives underground. I filled out an interest form with Evergreen Solar a few days ago. I really do want to get solar panels on my garage to power my house. Most local and state governments will help pay for the system, and then your energy bills go down, you’re helping save the environment (and lives), and you even get a tax break when you file with the IRS.

Tags: the world

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 M // Jan 4, 2006 at 12:16 pm

    It’s a deadline issue — the one body/12 alive/12 dead developments happened right on deadline. A lot of East Coast papers had “12 alive” on their covers, while some of the West Coast ones had time to redo the page for “12 dead.”

  • 2 Earth Sentinel // Jan 4, 2006 at 12:25 pm

    This is incredibly macabre news. There seems to have been quite a few underlying problems, with this mine and the industry as a whole that caused this incident.

    The greater tragedy is that we still rely on an incredibly dirty fossil fuel to power our lives, when nuclear is both safer and renewable if used properly.

    You can find all my reasons for preferring nuclear, as well as commentary about the Chinese coal situation (6500 deaths per year) at Earth Sentinel where you will also find peak oil, renewable energy, and climate change news.

  • 3 Joe V. // Jan 4, 2006 at 12:50 pm

    My dad was an MSHA electrical inspector in West Virginia coal mines for 35 years. Here are some answers to your question:

    “Why can’t we dig 13 people out of a hole? I know it was deep, but give me a break. Are we really that advanced if we lose 12 people because we can’t dig fast enough?”

    The miners were approx. 2 miles under the ground, and the rescue crews needed to proceed slowly, on foot, ventilating as they went. They could not just push outside air through the mines all at once due to the fact that if methane was present and there were a fire in the mine the fresh air could push the pocket of methane over the fire and cause another explosion. (Since CO levels, which are the byproduct of a fire, were elevated it was likely that there could have been an underground fire burning.) They had to proceed on foot rather than using a man-trip for the same reasons: mechanical or electrical sparks could have ignited another explosion.

    The issue here was not “digging fast enough,” it was that the ventilation had to be incremental in order to safely proceed.

    What sucks is that under Bush’s federal leadership, MSHA fines are routinely ignored, not prosecuted, and/or settled. This was bound to happen sooner rather than later.

  • 4 Stephanie // Jan 5, 2006 at 1:18 pm


    I stop in here every once in awhile, but this is the first time I had to post. I think you are missing the point, at least a little, regarding your assertion that we should use different energy sources so that “these poor guys wouldn’t have to lose their lives underground.”

    These men weren’t doing this job because “someone had to do it.” They were doing it because it was one of the very few higher-paying professions in the area in which they live. And probably the only high-paying profession where they live for people who don’t have a college education.

    Obviously, it says something about our society and our economic structure that people feel compelled to take such a dangerous job because it is their only option to make a good wage. And yes, eliminating the need for coal will eliminate the job, and there won’t be more accidents like this.

    What you are really advocating for is taking away the ability of these men to make a decision to make more money, and suffer the risks associated with the job. I am not saying that taking such a stance is right or wrong, but I think your argument–that being more environmentally responsible would mean they wouldn’t have to lose their lives in coal mines–fails to recognize that although yes, these men took this job because it existed, taking away the need for/existance of that job does not make the situation all better. It means a lot of people will be out of work, and a lot of people won’t have a way to make a good wage.

    A lot of this comes down to an argument of paternalism. Do we think there are some jobs that are just too dangerous for anyone to do? Do we think that we should take away the ability of people to make decisions to make more money by taking an undesirable or dangerous job? Obviously, we do that in certain instances as a society–making prostitution illegal means that some people who would normally be prostitutes because of high pay might not take the job, for example.

    Of course, one could argue that we should change the entire economic structure of our society, to ensure that people don’t have to make these sorts of choices. And I suspect you would agree with that. But I don’t really think that was the point you were making in your post.

  • 5 Gabe A_nderson // Jan 5, 2006 at 3:06 pm

    Thanks for the input, Steph. Of course there are implications and a ripple effect to everything, alternative energy included. In an ideal world, the coal mine workers could get jobs supporting alternative energy production efforts.

    I know it’s not as simple as that… my point was idealistic, I realize, and only meant to emphasize that we should be doing a hell of a lot more as a country to move to clean energy than we’re doing now.

    This coal mine tragedy is just one more reason.