West Virginia mine disaster hits home in Huntington

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HUNTINGTON, Utah -- Some people in Utah are watching the West Virginia mining tragedy very closely. That's because they know exactly what those people in West Virginia are going through.

Mining communities certainly come together at a time like this.


Hillary Gordon, the mayor of Huntington, Utah, says the mine disaster at West Virginia's Upper Big Branch coal mine quickly brought Crandall Canyon back to mind. The Crandall Canyon mine is just a few miles away from the small town, and some of the miners who lost their lives in that tragedy lived in Huntington.

"It was an immediate drop in the pit of my stomach," Gordon said. "It brought back the memories of a few years ago."

In August of 2007, six miners were trapped deep inside the Crandall Canyon mine when the earth shifted. Later, three rescuers were killed when the mine shifted again. The bodies of the trapped miners were never recovered.

What happened... at Crandall Canyon Mine?
On Monday, August 6, 2007, at 2:48 a.m. six miners were killed by a collapse in the Crandall Canyon Mine in northwest Emery County. Ten days later, on August 16 three rescue workers were killed and six others injured when one of the walls of the tunnel exploded outwards. The three main passageways were later sealed with concrete blocks leaving the bodies inside entombed. On July 24th, 2008 the U.S. government announced its highest penalty for coal mine safety violations against Bob Murray's Genwal Resources, $1.64 million, for the 2007 collapse.

All day long, Wendy Black just stared at her television.

"I have to watch. There's got to be some hope," she said. "Maybe these four men will come out alive."

She's watching coverage of the West Virginia mine disaster because she knows what it's like to hope against all odds. Her husband, Dale Black, is one of the men who died in Utah's Crandall Canyon Mine disaster in 2007.

She knows exactly what some wives in West Virginia are going through.

"It's too familiar," Wendy said. "You just want hope. You want them to bring the men back."

Like Wendy and so many others in town, Gordon is keeping up with what's going on in West Virginia. She says it's almost like déjà-vu.

"Watching the families, the looks on their faces, it was so familiar to me," Gordon said.

Gordon said she and others can identify with the anxiety people felt while waiting for news of the fate of their loved ones, and the grief they felt when that news was bad.

Gordon said people going into the mines know it's risky. "I think you have to be a very strong personality to be able to go underground and do those jobs," she said. "It's what our towns here are made up of and certainly that's the truth in those locations in West Virginia."


Huntington, like many towns in West Virginia, is a coal mining town. Folks know what hard work is, and they stick together.

Gordon remembers getting cards from West Virginia during the Crandall Canyon disaster. Now she's trying to think of ways Huntington can reciprocate.

"That's one thing I want to do from our city, is to have our council and everyone who would like to sign cards and send them because I know it was helpful for the families here," Gordon said.

But she said life is also moving on. In fact, Gordon said plans are moving ahead to open the Lila Canyon mine in Emery County. That mine will be operated by Bob Murray, president of Murray Energy Corporation, the mine that ran Crandall Canyon.

The company was fined more than $1.3 million for violations in the Crandall collapse. It also reached a settlement for an undisclosed amount of money with family members of the victims.

"I think time does help, and in these small communities people rally around with love and kindness and friendship," Gordon said.

"We don't pretend it didn't happen," Wendy said. "We talk about Dale all the time. We remember everything we did with him and just the smallest memory."

Wendy also wonders why there were so many safety violations against that West Virginia coal mine and this tragedy still happened. She wants conditions to be as safe as possible for all miners so no more wives -- like her -- will lose a loved one.


Story compiled with contributions from Marc Giauque and Alex Cabrero.

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