Katrina vanden Heuvel

The Nation

June 26, 2011

It was Easter Weekend 2010 when 33-year-old Gary Quarles—a skilled miner with 14 years experience and a father of two— and an “up and coming” miner, Nicolas McCroskey, 26, were having dinner with a friend. They said that “something bad was going to happen” at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine where they worked.

That Sunday, Quarles also confided in a close friend he’d known since childhood.

“I’m just scared to go back to work,” he said. “Man, they got us up there mining and we ain’t got no air. You can’t see nothing. I’m just scared to death something bad is going to happen.”

The next day, a powerful explosion tore through two and one-half miles of the mine, killing Quarles, McCroskey, and 27 of their fellow miners. Men like Carl Acord, 52, who had worked the mines for 34 years and was a proud member of the “Old Man Crew”; Jason Adkins, 25, who had won all-state honors in football and basketball in high school; Cory Davis, 20, who had followed his family into the mines; US army veteran Steven Harrah, 40, devoted to his wife and six-year old son; Dean Jones, 50, leaving behind his wife and a son with cystic fibrosis; Roosevelt Lynch, 59, a miner for over 30 years and a substitute teacher, as well as a basketball, football, and track coach; Vietnam vet Benny Willingham, 61, a coal miner for 30 years who was five weeks away from retirement; and so many more.

Of the 29 men killed, 19 died as a result of carbon monoxide intoxication and 10 as a result of injuries suffered in the explosion.

One week later, former Governor Joe Manchin asked J. Davitt McAteer, an Assistant Secretary of Labor in charge of mine safety in the Clinton Administration, to conduct an independent investigation into the causes of the disaster and issue recommendations to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

Read the entire article, Here.