Monday, April 5, 2010

Day 201/365 Holding Our Breath

Tonight there's a mining disaster over in our neighbor state. News reports are spotty, with seven miners dead so far, and nineteen unaccounted for. We can only hope that the safe rooms were accessible, and the oxygen holds out. Right now, there is a small white mountain church full of wives and children, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, all waiting.

This isn't the first time. It won't be the last. Coal is the backbone of West Virginia. Generations of Appalachian families have worked the mines. And generations of Appalachian men have died in them.

This is my granddaddy, Charlie, on his wedding day. He is seventeen years old, and employed as a moonshine runner. Meaning he drives cars loaded with illegal whiskey along dark mountain roads, without headlights, sometimes at high speeds. Sometime before his nineteenth birthday, he will go to work in a mine. And within a couple years he will almost die in a mine fire, taking months to recouperate with first and second degree burns all over his body. He was one of the few who were carried out.

Charlie left the mine after that, refusing to go back. Running moonshine is safer. Anything is safer.

Appalachian history, especially in West Virginia, sometimes seems to be nothing but one mining disaster after another.

But right now, the only one that matters is this one.

Our thoughts are with those wives and families, waiting in the church, and those miners, down deep in the dark.


  1. I was saddened to see the death number jump so high since last evening. Terribly, terribly sad. Your Grandaddy was right, anything else is safer.

  2. My husband and I watched Harlan Co USA the other night, and we were shocked that it happened in the 1970s. It seemed like it should have been in the teens, the twenties...not in our lifetime. Things haven't changed at all, we said with disgust, with disappointment. And we were saying the same thing when the news broke about the WV miners.
    We're natives of eastern Kentucky, so this seems like home, and it feels like family. It shouldn't have happened.
    This is such a moving post. So sad.
    (Found your blog from PW...glad I did.)

  3. related (VERY):
    from rolling stone
    The Coal Baron
    Don Blankenship
    CEO, Massey Energy

    In an age when most CEOs are canny enough to at least pay lip service to the realities of climate change, Blankenship stands apart as corporate America's most unabashed denier. Global warming, he insists, is nothing but "a hoax and a Ponzi scheme." His fortune depends on such lies: Massey Energy, the nation's fourth-largest coal-mining operation, unearths more than 40 million tons of the fossil fuel each year — often by blowing the tops off of Appalachian mountains.

    The country's highest-paid coal executive, Blankenship is a villain ripped straight from the comic books: a jowly, mustache-sporting, union-busting coal baron who uses his fortune to bend politics to his will. He recently financed a $3.5 million campaign to oust a state Supreme Court justice who frequently ruled against his company, and he hung out on the French Riviera with another judge who was weighing an appeal by Massey. "Don Blankenship would actually be less powerful if he were in elected office," Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia once observed. "He would be twice as accountable and half as feared."

    On the national level, Blankenship enjoys a position of influence on the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has led the fight to kill climate legislation. He enjoys inveighing against the "greeniacs" — including Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Al Gore — who are "taking over the world." And he has even taken to tweeting about climate change: "We must demand that more coal be burned to save the Earth from global cooling."

    In more unguarded moments, however, Blankenship confesses that his over-the-top rhetoric is strategic. "If it weren't for guys like me," he says, "the middle would be further to the left." He also admits that his efforts to block climate legislation are ultimately self-serving: "It would probably cut our business in half."
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