Saturday, April 10, 2010

25 + 4 = 29 Dead West Virginia Miners

It seems that only three things can bring media attention upon West Virginia, West Virginia University Football, West Virginia University Basketball, and West Virginia mine disasters. The Mountain State is where I was born, received most of my education, and lived and worked until three years ago, so I am a Mountaineer through and through and resonate with unfortunate news of yet another mine disaster and more loss of life.

Soon after the most recent West Virginia mine disaster it was reported that twenty-five miners died in the explosion but that it was hoped that the four miners unaccounted for had made it to a safe room where they were waiting to be rescued. After several days of hopeful searching and waiting, drilling and waiting, rescue attempts begun and then postponed, renewed rescue attempts and waiting, as well as press reports, interviews, and conjectures, four more lifeless bodies have been recovered from a West Virginian Coal Mine. Four more families have lost sons, husbands, fathers, brothers, and bread winners as King Coal claims four more sacrificial victims.

Although I happened to on vacation hundreds of miles away when the Sago mine exploded a few years ago, Sago was just a short drive up the valley from where I lived and worked at the time. While the media focused on the immediate story, I know from personal experience that the story of Sago played out over several months and years, leaving scars on the local and extended community that still have not healed.

When the satellite link trucks and vans leave West Virginia for their next live coverage assignment, the story of this most recent disaster will continue long after the media have left Montcoal, and once again West Virginia will slip into the recesses of the nation’s consciousness until the next Sugar Bowl, NCAA Final Four, or mine disaster. But coal and the electricity it is used to produce will flow into households across the Mid-Atlantic States.

West Virginia coal is both a blessing and a curse, and coal mining in West Virginia is like an addictive drug that offers a quick fix high but also occasionally kills when improperly administered or when one overdoses. Like a third world colony West Virginia has had its lumber clear cut, its gas pumped out, and its coal extracted at the cost of environmental degradation and lost lives, this week twenty nine more lost lives. Mountaineers are always free, free to sell their minerals, land, natural resources and very lives to out of state absentee entrepreneurs who enrich themselves while their workers survive on a few scraps of leftovers.

May God comfort the afflicted families, friends, co workers and neighbors of the twenty-nine West Virginia miners killed in this recent mine explosion. May God afflict those who comfortably sat by, counting their money while allowing this to happen.


Jane Donnelly said...

Your blog says it all and says it well. I knew you would have just the right word for this tragedy. When will we ever learn that systemic evil, with greed as its center piece, only destroys and kills. Responsible mine ownership and management could still be profitable although less profitable. Miners need miners rights and I believe especially need to be unionized. What do you think?

John Edward Harris said...

Thanks, Jane. I understand that this particular mine was not unionized, which prevented workers from reporting safety violations. Although no relation (as far as I know), I have long been inspired by Mother Jones (Harris), who said "Pray for the dead. Fight like hell for the living."