BECKLEY, W.Va. — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and West Virginia House of Delegates member Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, were among those in attendance at a ceremony Friday honoring the victims of the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion in Raleigh County nine years ago.
Manchin, who was governor of West Virginia when the disaster occurred, said the memory of the miners who perished on April 5, 2010 has had a profound impact on his approach to government service.
“I see some of the family members are here today, and I can tell you their lives are changed forever,” he said. “I want them to know I haven’t forgotten, and I want any legislator and anybody in any policy-making position to make sure you understand that safety laws that we put in place are because of the sacrifices that people have made, the lives that were lost, and the families that are enduring that loss. And, I hope we never, ever go back to the disregard for the safety of a human being (in order to) provide the energy this country has needed and will need, for quite some time.”
Manchin recalled the day of the explosion, when 29 workers at the The Massey Energy site in Whitesville died instantly as a result of coal dust igniting nearly 1,000 feet underground.
“My wife and I had just left town. We were getting away for a couple of days, and I no sooner got to our destination, we turned around and got back on a plane and came back. I wanted to be with the families,” said Manchin.
Del. Bates, who led the effort to construct a memorial near the Raleigh County Courthouse, said he hopes the plaque will serve both as an acknowledgement of the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster and as an ongoing reminder of the history of similar tragedies related to mining in the U.S.
“It was just a dark, dark day. I mean, it was just an awful thing,” he said. “Everybody knew someone, directly or indirectly, who was touched by this thing. So, this date rolls around every year, and it kind of sneaks up on you, and then you sort of think back. There was this togetherness that we all felt, that we had to do all we could to help these families.”
Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship later was convicted on a misdemeanor count of conspiring to violate federal mine-safety laws, during mining operations at the Upper Big Branch Site. He served one year in federal prison and in a halfway house, before being released in 2017.
The 29 miners who lost their lives are as follows:
Carl “Pee Wee” Acord
Michael “Cuz” Elswick
William Ildon “Bob” Griffith
Steven “Smiley” Harrah
William Roosevelt Lynch
James “Eddie” Mooney
Howard “Boone” Payne
Dillard Earl “Dewey” Persinger
Joel “Jody” Price
Gary Wayne Quarles
Grover Dale Skeens