After waiting for hours in the rain, in the middle of the night we learned that 12 of 13 missing West Virginia coal miners lost their lives after all. Someone had mistakenly told the waiting families that the missing men were alive. The facts are stark. The mine was not safe to enter after it had been temporarily closed, because someting went terribly wrong. It appears there was an explosion soon after that very experienced crew back on their very dangerous jobs.
The families and all those who grieve the deaths will, somehow, be forced to take in that awful reality, after believing for a time that all their loved ones had miraculously survived. The mistaken communication was awful, but, as I have listened to the news conference information, understandable. The losses are horrible. The dashing of their hopes must have been horrible also. Reuters reports that,
Joy gave way to grief and anger on Wednesday when a West Virginia coal town learned that 12 of 13 miners trapped in a mine explosion had died, three hours after friends and family were mistakenly told that all but one had survived. One man survived Monday’s blast and entrapment at the Sago mine in central West Virginia. He was hospitalized in critical condition.
“I feel that we were lied to all along,” said Anne Meridith, whose father died in the incident.
News of the 12 deaths came hours after church bells pealed and friends and family of the miners celebrated when word spread that 12 miners had survived. West Virginia’s governor said there were indications within 20 minutes the initial report of 12 survivors was wrong. Friends and family were not told for about three hours.
My frustration with reporters at the news conference is their intense concentration on the communication mess-up rather than the loss of life. They miss the whole point at times and the questioning goes terribly wrong. I know they have a job to do, but their questions can be so ham-handed and shallow that I wonder what on earth must they be thinking. I sometimes think that they are competing to be “The One” to somehow fix blame on officials doing the best they could with no rest and the extremely limited information they had at the moment.
In the midst of the grief, the shock and anger associated with this tragedy, these “things that went terribly wrong, ” the course of the story will move along. In varying degrees things have gone terribly wrong at the mine will change. The investigation to determine what went wrong will reach its conclusions. The brand new company running this mine will get on its feet, or not. The family members will make their ways as best they can with precious few resources. The town will pull together, share what they can and support each other. Lawyers will join clients for the inevitable lawsuits. Coal miners who need the money, or who love the work and the proud tradition, will throw the dice and go back down the shafts.
In the midst of this story of such widely varying needs and experiences, I hope that the living who remain will find strength, solace and eventually perspective. Twelve men died in the remote hills and hollows of Appalachia, and my heart goes out to all whose lives have been turned upside down as a result.