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Loved ones to place wreaths at Upper Big Branch Miners Memorial for 13th anniversary

WHITESVILLE, W.Va. — Wreaths are set to be placed Wednesday at the UBB Miners Memorial in Whitesville to commemorate the 13th anniversary of the coal mining disaster that claimed the lives of 29 miners.

On April 5, 2010, high methane levels and coal dust triggered a spark from a piece of mining equipment, causing a mass explosion in the Upper Big Branch Coal Mine near Montcoal in Raleigh County. Recovery and rescue efforts followed for days after the blast. There were no survivors.

A permanent memorial to remember those miners who lost their lives in the disaster was built in nearby Whitesville in 2012.

Upper Big Branch Mining Memorial Group President Sheila Combs said it’s a place family and loved ones of the miners can come to gather, share stories and mourn.

“We felt like the community at large needed a place where they could come together as a community, or as a work group, as a family,” Combs said.

Directly following the 2010 disaster, a temporary, makeshift memorial was built at a gazebo in a public park in Whitesville by community members. Pictures, memorabilia, and personal messages were left around the candle-lit monument until all of the miner’s bodies were recovered.

After the UBB organization was founded in 2011, efforts began to erect a permanent memorial in the same location. They partnered with Rob Dinsmore and Chapman Technical Group to design the roadside memorial and surrounding plaza.

By the fall of that year, the organization exceeded its goal of $500,000 to secure funding for its construction through contributions from coal industries, local businesses, and individuals. Seven months later, the memorial was completed and a dedication ceremony for it was held on July 27, 2012.

Combs said that the memorial is a solemn reminder of the disaster, and a resonance of the feelings the community has from the great loss.

“When something like that of that magnitude happens and people were from so many different places, the community suffers, family suffers, friends suffer, you have a sense of needing to do something,” she said.

Combs said the organization has been inviting families to come and place wreaths on the memorial every year during the anniversary of the disaster. She hopes that it serves as not only a way to mourn lost loved ones, but a way to enlighten them on the dangers of working in the mines.

“We just hope people come and pay their respects, and maybe leave with a better understanding of the coal industry and maybe a better respect for the coal industry,” Combs added.

The UBB anniversary will also be marked Wednesday at noon during a ceremony at Shoemaker Square in Beckley. There’s also expected to an update on the Miners Memorial Wall project.

The UBB disaster marked the worst mining disaster in the country since 1970, when 38 coal miners were killed in an explosion in Hyden, Kentucky.

The 29 victims at UBB:

– Carl Acord, 52.

– Jason Atkins, 25.

– Christopher Bell, 33.

– Gregory Steven Brock, 47.

– Kenneth Allan Chapman, 53.

– Robert Clark, 41.

– Charles Timothy Davis, 51.

– Cory Davis, 20.

– Michael Lee Elswick, 56.

– William I. Griffith, 54.

– Steven Harrah, 40.

– Edward Dean Jones, 50.

– Richard K. Lane, 45.

– William Lynch, 59.

-Nicholas Darrell McCroskey, 26.

– Joe Marcum, 57.

– Ronald Lee Maynor, 31.

– James E. Mooney, 50.

– Adam Keith Morgan, 21.

– Rex L. Mullins, 50.

– Joshua S. Napper, 25.

– Howard D. Payne, 53.

– Dillard Earl Persinger, 32.

– Joel R. Price, 55.

– Deward Scott, 58.

– Gary Quarles, 33.

– Grover Dale Skeens, 57.

– Benny Willingham, 61.

– Ricky Workman, 50.

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