Tragedy on the Coal River

Apr 6, 2010

Tragedy has struck the Coal River Valley. 25 men are confirmed dead and 4 missing, after an explosion ripped through the Upper Big Branch underground mine at 3:00 PM Monday. In the wake of yesterday's events our thoughts and prayers go to the miners of Upper Big Branch and their families. Like everyone in Coal River, we are waiting to hear about the fate of family, friends, and neighbors.

The Upper Big Branch Mine is in the Coal River Valley, three miles south of Whitesville. It is operated by Performance Coal, a subsidiary of Massey Energy. The mine lies beneath a vast expanse of Massey-operated mountaintop removal surface mines. This is the worst mine disaster to strike the Coal River Valley and the worst mine disaster in the USA in 25 years.


The Upper Big Branch mine's history is riddled with safety violations. In 2009, the Upper Big Branch mine had 458 safety violations, incurring a total of $897,325 in fines. Since January 1, 2010, the Miner Safety and Health Administration has issued the Performance Coal 115 safety violations for the Upper Big Branch mine. For six of the past ten years, it has exceeded the national average in safety violations.

As yesterday's tragedy makes all too clear, coal mining is dangerous work. Its impacts shape every aspect of modern life; from the energy infrastructure that powers our homes, work, and gadgets, to the exploitation of miners and coalfield communities. The men and women who go underground deserve our respect and solidarity. At Coal River Mountain Watch, we are devoting growing energy to diversifying the local economy so that men and  women no longer need to risk their lives for their livelihoods.

Our friends at the Whitesville restaurant and craft shop, Nuttin' Fancy, are at work cooking food to serve rescue workers and family members. Please make a donation to support their volunteer efforts – make checks payable to Nuttin' Fancy and mail them to P.O. Box 452 Whitesville, WV 25209.

Today, we ask that you keep the families of the lost miners, and the four still missing, in your hearts. Pray for them and pray for all coalfield communities. Reflect on your connection to coal, and work for a diversified economy and energy infrastructure in Appalachia and across America. The past cannot be undone, but the future is yet to be made.

For in depth reporting and up to date information, check the Coal Tattoo blog.