4 missing W.Va. miners dead; final toll at 29
MONTCOAL, W.Va. - April 10, 2010 -- Rescue workers located four bodies deep in a West Virginia coal mine, dashing any faint hopes of finding more survivors of a deadly explosion that has claimed 29 lives, the worst U.S. mining disaster in a generation.
Officials announced the grim discovery at the Upper Big Branch Mine around 1 a.m. Saturday, after first notifying family members.
"We did not receive the miracle that we prayed for," Gov. Joe Manchin said. "So this journey has ended and now the healing will start."
Until late Friday, officials had held out a slim chance that four missing miners may have made it to an underground refuge chamber which held enough oxygen and water to survive for four days.
"None of the chambers had been deployed and none of our miners suffered," Manchin said.
The death toll makes it the worst U.S. coal mining disaster since a 1970 explosion killed 38 in Hyden, Ky.
Earlier, federal mine safety administrator Kevin Stricklin had said there was no way anyone in the mine could have survived after the blast unless they were in a refuge shelter.
"There's no way that life could be sustained in that type of atmosphere, even for a short period of time," Stricklin said.
Rescuers had hoped the miners might have made it to the chamber stocked with food, water and enough oxygen for several days.
Officials say the mission now is to recover all 22 bodies still inside the Upper Big Branch mine 30 miles south of Charleston. Seven other bodies were recovered after the blast Monday and two other miners were injured.
"It's hard to turn a rescue into a recovery with the same group of people," Stricklin said.
During the previous rescue attempts, searchers were forced to withdraw by dangerous gases and the risk of fire or explosion. The first time rescuers went into the mine after the explosion they walked past three of the four missing miners without seeing them, because of the smoke and dust in the area.
The fourth and final missing miner was found deeper into the mine around 11:30 p.m. Friday, Stricklin said.
The federal mine agency has appointed a team of investigators to look into the blast, which officials said may have been caused by a buildup of methane. President Barack Obama said he wants a report by next week.
The mine's owner, Massey Energy Co., has been repeatedly cited for problems with the system that vents methane and for allowing combustible dust to build up. On the day of the blast, MSHA cited the mine with two safety violations - one involving inadequate maps of escape routes, the other concerning an improper splice of electrical cable. However, Stricklin said the violations had nothing to do with the blast.
Records: production over safety at W.Va. mine
Massey CEO Don Blankenship has strongly defended the company's record and disputed accusations from miners that he puts coal profits ahead of safety. MONTCOAL, W.Va. (AP) - Records show a safety inspector found that management considered production more important than safety twice at a West Virginia mine under scrutiny since an explosion killed 29 people.
In two evacuation orders in 2009, a federal inspector cited the operators of Upper Big Branch mine for skipping mandatory checks of a piece of heavy equipment.
The inspector's notes say management deemed production more important. The citation says the operator complied with the requirements later that day, Sept. 23, 2009.
The notes are included in 140 pages of documents that federal officials released Friday.
Massey Energy Co., which owns the mine, has defended its record and disputed accusations from miners that coal profits were put ahead of safety.
Funerals begin for victims of W.Va. mine blast
MULLENS, W.Va. (AP) - About 300 mourners have packed a church in West Virginia as funerals start for some of the 29 victims killed in a mine explosion.
The Rev. Gary Pollard of Mullens Family Worship Center said Friday that Benny Willingham was going to be remembered for his generosity and how he lived his life for God. Willingham recently gave a used car to a stranger and was known for other acts of kindness.
Willingham was a Vietnam veteran and became a Christian 19 years ago this week. He was a miner for over 30 years.
Willingham's funeral is one of several scheduled Friday.
Massey to review deadly W.Va. mine blast
JULIAN, W.Va. (AP) - Massey Energy says it's going to conduct extensive reviews of an explosion that killed 29 people at a West Virginia coal mine.
Massey said Friday in a statement that its aim is to prevent similar explosions. The statement also responds to criticisms about the safety record of the Upper Big Branch mine where the blast occurred. The mine has been cited for numerous violations of federal mining rules.
Massey says it does not condone any violation. The company also says the mine has less than one federal violation per day, which is about the national average.
The firm says most violations are resolved the day they are issued.
Massey maintains its safety record has been better than the industry average for 17 of the past 19 years.
House, Senate to hold hearings on mine explosion
WASHINGTON (AP) - Both the House and Senate plan to hold hearings examining possible causes of the explosion that killed 29 workers at a West Virginia coal mine.
West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd says he wants the hearings to assess the state of mine health and safety laws and determine what lawmakers can do to avoid future loss of life. Byrd calls it "infuriating" that such a disaster could still happen and says the country has laws and resources to keep similar tragedies from happening again.
Byrd says lawmakers will give serious scrutiny to the practices of Massey Energy Co., given the large number of safety violations at the Upper Big Branch Mine where the explosion occurred. Lawmakers plan to wait until rescue efforts are over before setting a date for hearings.
west virginia, explosion, national/world
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