W.Va. church honors 29 dead miners, profession
Crews working to remove bodies
PETTUS, W.Va. — A pair of tall, black boots and a lunch pail sat near the altar yesterday in New Life Assembly church — a memorial to the 29 men killed in the worst US mining disaster since 1970 and a thank you to those who make their living inside the mountains.
The day, the first Sunday since the April 5 explosion killed 28 workers and a contractor at
Pastor Gary Williams, who has worked at Massey Energy mines for 18 years, knew many of the victims. On his way to church yesterday morning, he heard Ricky Workman’s name among them for the first time.
“I know his child. I know his wife. He’s a part of my family. He’s a part of my life,’’ Williams said, tears falling. “Over time, our hearts and the emptiness that we have inside will fade away, but I don’t never want to forget what happened April 5, 2010.’’
Some of the dead have been laid to rest. Crews were still working yesterday to remove the bodies of several others who didn’t make it out, but the recovery had to be halted because of high gas readings in the mine. Crews have to drill another hole to vent the mine before they can continue.
Four funerals were held Friday, and nearly two dozen will follow in the weeks ahead. Despite hope that four missing miners might survive long enough for rescuers to reach them, officials announced early Saturday morning that the four had apparently died instantly.
A complete list of victims has yet to be released. Two other miners were injured in the blast, and one remains hospitalized.
A team of federal investigators will arrive today as officials try to figure out what caused the blast. Virginia-based Massey has been under scrutiny for a string of safety violations at the mine, though the CEO, Don Blankenship, has defended the company’s record and disputed accusations that he puts profits ahead of safety.
Authorities have said that high levels of volatile methane gas may have played a role in the disaster.
Massey has been repeatedly cited and fined for problems with the system that vents methane and for allowing combustible dust to build up.
During a homily in Wheeling yesterday, Catholic Bishop Michael J. Bransfield said four years is too short a time between West Virginia mine disasters. The last was at the Sago Mine in 2006, when 12 men died.
“Can those entrusted with the protection of miners be trusted to fulfill the jobs and enforce the laws?’’ he said. “Is our technology in the US mines in 2010 equal to the technology that is easily available in other industries? Is it safer to travel in space than to work in a West Virginia mine?’’
At churches in the southern West Virginia coal fields, however, the focus was on reflection.
Judy Walker, whose longtime friend, Workman, died in the accident, stood before the altar at New Life Assembly in tears, mourning the heartache of families she helped cook for this week as they awaited word of their loved ones’ fates.
“All we can do is love on them,’’ she said.