Friday marks the third anniversary of the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion that claimed 29 lives, making it the worst mining disaster in the U.S. in nearly 40 years.
On April 5, 2010, a blast rocked the Raleigh County operation owned by Massey Energy at 3:27 p.m. The explosion happened as the evening crew was going in and day-shift workers were coming out.
Twenty-five men were initially reported dead. It took four days to reach four other victims who were located deep inside the mine.
In December of 2011, MSHA ruled that Massey Energy allowed flagrant safety violations to go unchecked. And in April 2012, an independent investigation ruled that both Massey and MSHA were to blame for the explosion.
Last summer, the UBB Miners Memorial was dedicated in Whitesville. The massive granite monument features silhouettes of 29 miners. A large ceremony was held to honor those who died. But Sheila Combs, one of the organizers of the memorial, expects a very quiet, reflective third anniversary.
“We are just going to let people come and go on their own time and pay their respects in their own way,” said Combs.
Combs said memorial organizers on Wednesday unveiled the final piece of the monument.
“The last thing on the agenda was putting the dedication plaque in place,” Combs said. “Pray Construction came in (Wednesday). I went up with them and we actually put the dedication plaque in place.”
Thursday evening, the memorial committee will display 29 wreathes, one for each of the miners killed in the disaster. They’ll be in place as day-shift miners pass the memorial on their way to work Friday.
During the past 10 months, thousands of people from in state and out of state have visited the memorial to pay their respects, Combs said. She stressed it’s there “to provide a place where people could come and come together and heal and share their experiences.”
Last April, Alpha Natural Resources, the company that bought out Massey, announced it was sealing the mine permanently.