WHITESVILLE, W.Va. — Five years have past since that dark day in April 2010 when an ignition led to an explosion and a fast moving fireball at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County. The anniversary will be marked quietly this weekend at the UBB Memorial in the town of Whitesville.
“We didn’t want to obligate the families on an Easter holiday to come and attend a service or a ceremony,” said Mike Gwinn, Vice-President of the UBB Memorial Committee. “We will set the wreathes up and they’ll be in place from Saturday through Monday. We encourage family, friends, and the public just to visit the memorial at their own convenience.”
Although the blast left 29 men dead instantly, families above ground had no way of knowing their loved ones were alive. The site where the memorial was erected two years later became the harbor of hope for those praying for a miracle. Flowers, cards, pictures and mementos were placed in the gazebo which formerly stood in the location. Down the street several hundred turned out for a candlelight vigil and prayer while mine rescue teams tried desperately to find survivors in the dark entries just a few miles down the road.
“Each anniversary as it passes is still raw,” said Gwinn. “It’s an even that happened in the community that I don’t think anybody will ever forget.”
For nearly a week the world waited, watched, and prayed before then Governor Joe Manchin stepped to the podium at Marsh Fork Elementary School and delivered the final grim update that there were no survivors. The events of that week seem fresh in the minds of many who were there or were somehow tied to those who died.
The massive granite memorial serves as a constant reminder of the event, but Gwinn also hopes serves as a measure of healing to the area.
“It serves as a cathartic place that people can come and reflect on the events that happened that day and to remember the miners who were lost,” explained Gwinn. “I don’t’ want to say the memorial itself has helped people heal and move on, but we sure hope that it’s played a part in that for people.”