Magazine article Newsweek

A Dark Place; A West Virginia Mining Community Searches for Answers after an Underground Explosion Claimed 12 of Its Sons

Magazine article Newsweek

A Dark Place; A West Virginia Mining Community Searches for Answers after an Underground Explosion Claimed 12 of Its Sons

Article excerpt

Byline: Pat Wingert and Arian Campo-Flores (With Steve Tuttle and Daren Briscoe in Washington)

Marshall Winans had always yearned to follow in his father's footsteps and work in the coal mines. When his mother, Helen, warned him of the dangers, he replied, "I like it in there. It's just as safe in there as it is outside." But at about 6:30 a.m. last Monday at the Sago Mine in West Virginia, an explosion trapped Winans and 12 workmates 260 feet underground. One probably died instantly; the rest sought refuge in a remote pocket, curled up behind a curtain to fend off noxious gases. When rescuers finally reached the group 41 hours later, all but one of the miners had died.

But that news somehow got tangled on its way to a command station in the mine. Officials there thought they heard that all but one of the miners had survived. When that misinformation leaked to the workers' families, who were waiting anxiously at nearby Sago Baptist Church late Tuesday night, the crowd erupted in jubilation. "Grandma!" yelled Helen Winans's grandson. "They found them and they're alive!" Three hours later, mining officials delivered the awful truth. Some family members crumpled in grief; others lunged at company representatives, who were quickly escorted out.

The Sago 12 disaster--the nation's deadliest coal-mining accident since 2001--has convulsed the tight-knit community in Upshur County. Last Saturday, residents began an unrelenting schedule of wakes and funerals for the departed. They prayed for Sago's sole survivor, Randal McCloy, who lay in a Pittsburgh hospital in a drug-induced coma, with potentially serious brain injuries. …

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