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Behind the scenes at W. Va. mine
January 3, 2006 8:38 PM   Subscribe

Reporter candid about time at site of W. Va. mine explosion "I've had some time to sleep and some time to think about the past two days. It's a blur. I don't often like revealing my thought processes about my work and reporting, but I need to decompress. Here's what I remember, unedited and kinda raw."
posted by nospecialfx (50 comments total)

 

come, all you coalminers
wherever you may be
and listen to the story
that I relate to thee
my name is nothing extra
but the truth to you I tell
I am a coalminer
and I'm sure I wish you well

I was born in old Kentucky
in a coal camp, born and bred
I know about old beans
bulldog gravy and cornbread
I know how the miners work and slave
in the coalmines every day
for a dollar in the company store
for that is all they pay

mining is the most dangerous work
in our land today
plenty of dirty, slaving work
for very little pay
coalminers, won't you wake up
and open your eyes and see
what this dirty capitalist system
has done to you and me

dear miners, they will slave you
until you can't work no more
and what will you get for your laborbut a dollar in the company store
a tumbledown shack to live in
snow and rain pouring through the topand you have to pay the company rentand your payments will never stop

they take our very lifeblood
they take our children's lives
take fathers away from children
take husbands away from wivescoalminers, won't you organize
wherever you may be
and make this a land of freedom
for workers, like you and me

I am a coalminer
and I'm sure I wish you well
let's sink this capitalist system
to the darkest pits of hell

--"Coalminers," by Sarah Ogan Gunnin

posted by keswick at 8:45 PM on January 3, 2006


Holy crap. I can't find it on the internet yet, but cnn news just reported that the other 12 miners are alive.
posted by Meredith at 8:58 PM on January 3, 2006


Yeah, the posted link says the same thing now.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:00 PM on January 3, 2006


Yahoo's got it.
posted by marxchivist at 9:06 PM on January 3, 2006


Apparently, the people related to a trapped miner (Terry Helmes), a niece, a best friend and others, that CNN had been talking to, is the miner that died.
posted by puke & cry at 9:13 PM on January 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


That's the great thing about being a pessimist - the universe is constantly exceeding your expectations.
posted by Guy Smiley at 9:14 PM on January 3, 2006


looks that way:

"He's one of the mine's fire bosses and based on the scant information we have right now, I feel he may be the one we know was killed."
posted by nospecialfx at 9:15 PM on January 3, 2006


A tragedy occurs and some people are trapped in a mine, and the first thing metafilter produces is about how much capitalism sucks.
Fascinating.
posted by nightchrome at 9:18 PM on January 3, 2006


I've been checking CNN religiously today hoping for good news. I'm really glad they found the other 12 alive. That's wonderful news for the families.

. <--- for the one who died.
posted by chiababe at 9:28 PM on January 3, 2006


Coal Mining Fatalities from 1900 through 2004: 104,552 total. 1910 was the worst year with 3,242 fatalities: there were 22 in 2005. The worst single mining disaster in the U.S. was in 1907 in Monongah, West Virginia [slide show], about 60 miles north of Tallmansville.

There's a brief history of mine safety here.
posted by cenoxo at 9:56 PM on January 3, 2006


There's a pretty blonde white girl down there, right? 'Cause otherwise, I don't give a shit.
posted by interrobang at 10:10 PM on January 3, 2006


There's a pretty blonde white girl down there, right? 'Cause otherwise, I don't give a shit.

That's disgusting, you should be ashamed of yourself. There is a time to be snarky and this is not one of them.
posted by WetherMan at 10:49 PM on January 3, 2006


A lady in my cab asked me earlier tonight, "How can we have robots searching for water on Mars, but we still got men getting buried in mines?" I dunno, but I sure am glad they made it out alive.
posted by Banky_Edwards at 11:13 PM on January 3, 2006


I saw Anderson Cooper walking around, gathering footage for his "reporter's notebook" that he told me was going to air tonight sometime on 360. He keeps saying "We're in Sago, West Virginia" out of every break as he anchors from the scene, which isn't correct. Someone should tell him Sago is the name of the road and the mine, not the town.

Heh.

Great FPP - very nice story. Glad that the miners made it out alive too.
posted by wfrgms at 11:21 PM on January 3, 2006


104,552 miners killed in the last 104 years? My god.
I don't know how to start processing that...
posted by maryh at 11:30 PM on January 3, 2006


Just to clarify- they've been found alive, but not yet out of the mine, correct?
posted by gen at 11:30 PM on January 3, 2006


I'm wondering that as well, gen. They coould be found, but still trapped, no?
posted by jikel_morten at 11:54 PM on January 3, 2006


When I was a curly headed baby
My daddy set me down on his knee
Saying, "Son you go to school
You learn your letters
Now, don't you be no dusty miner, boy, like me"

Oh, I was born and raised at the mouth of the Hazzard Holler
Where the coal cars rolled and rumbled past my door
Now they stand in a rusty row of all empties
Because the L&N don't stop here anymore

I used to think my daddy was a black man
With scrip enough to buy the company store
But now he goes to town with empty pockets
And, Lord, his face is white
As the February snow

I was born and raised at the mouth of the Hazzard Holler
Where the coal cars rolled and rumbled past my door
But now they stand in a rusty row of all empties
Because the L&N don't stop here anymore

Never thought I'd live to learn to love the coaldust
Never thought I'd pray to hear those temples roar
But, God, I wish the grass would turn to money
And then them greenbacks
Would fill my pockets once more

I was born and raised at the mouth of the Hazzard Holler
Where the coal cars rolled and rumbled past my door
But now they stand in a rusty row of all empties
Because the L&N don't stop here anymore

Last night I dreamed I went down to the office
To get my payday like I done before
But them old kudzu vines, they was covering over the doorway
And there was leaves and grass
Growing right up to the floor

I was born and raised at the mouth of the Hazzard Holler
Where the coal cars rolled and rumbled past my door
But now they stand in a rusty row of all empties
Because the L&N don't stop here anymore
Because the L&N don't stop here anymore
Aw, the L&N don't stop here anymore


The Carbon Biz is brutal.
posted by sourwookie at 11:55 PM on January 3, 2006


CNN now reporting only one survivor! This is awful!
posted by OneOliveShort at 11:55 PM on January 3, 2006


BTW:


The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore


Written by Jean Ritchie
Performed by MICHELLE SHOCKED
posted by sourwookie at 11:56 PM on January 3, 2006


I have no TV or radio. Is there some sort of online moment by moment of this?
posted by sourwookie at 11:58 PM on January 3, 2006


A tragedy occurs and some people are trapped in a mine, and the first thing metafilter produces is about how much capitalism sucks.
Fascinating.


nightchrome, few businesses in history make capitalism look as bad as mining does. It has earned its reputation well.

That makes for some gripping folk songs, as you may well imagine.
Sarah Ogan (nee Garland) was born of a musical and mining family at Elys Branch, Kentucky, in 1910, and married a miner in 1926. She and her family lived the paradox of capitalist industrialism as they watched the coal trains carry untold mineral wealth out of their valleys but saw cash returns so meager that the miners lived in perpetual poverty....

Sarah regards "Come All You Coal Miners" less "as a polemical or protest song" than "as a personal statement of her deepest feelings and sorrow." As such, the song combines personal experience and observation with traditional elements (such as the "Come all ye" opening) in a manner that exemplifies the finest of American labor folk songs—shy, perhaps, on economic theory, but bold and assertive in richly earned anger and righteous outrage.
[pdf]

Basically, few things would be more appropriate in this thread than a song written by the wife of a coal miner.

.
posted by dhartung at 12:00 AM on January 4, 2006


What a clusterfuck. It looks like only one survivor.
posted by Justinian at 12:01 AM on January 4, 2006


I really want to smack the CNN reporter in the perky baseball cap. Maybe I'm overreacting, but they sure do love their leading questions. "So Sam, I'm sure you're filled with pain right now..."
posted by maryh at 12:07 AM on January 4, 2006


All the news organizations are fucking up: MSNBC

Headline: Only 1 survivor in W. Va. coal mine
Photo: Woman smiling, holding daughters, jubilant
Caption: Family and friends react to the news that 12 of the 13 coal miners trapped in the Sago Mine were found alive about midnight Tuesday.

CNN's front page is even worse. This is sad.

.
posted by cloeburner at 12:19 AM on January 4, 2006


Although mining in the West has become considerably safer since the advent of modern standards and vastly increased use of pneumatic equipment, which has reduced the number of men required for production, we still see an average of 93 mining accident deaths in the US every year -- not counting miners who die of related causes such as lung diseases.

In Russia and China and other less-developed countries, though, mine safety remains poor. In China, 4000 miners still die every year.

And the news, now, is grim.
posted by dhartung at 12:21 AM on January 4, 2006


cloeburner: I'm sorry, but I don't think you should be jumping on news outlets for missing certain elements when updating a breaking story. How would you like it if you have to satiate millions of people wanting complete news stories, with matching captions the minute the news breaks out? News outlets are trying their best to give you the most recent info. Give them a goddamn break.

I work at a big metro paper, and right now they're scrambling to chase thousands of their final editions.

The fact that safety standards have grown in the U.S. does make these deaths a tragedy, even if it pales compared to those in China and Russia.
posted by i8ny3x at 12:44 AM on January 4, 2006


That's the horrible thing about being an optimist...

(sigh)

Fuck. Just...fuck.
posted by Guy Smiley at 12:45 AM on January 4, 2006


.
posted by adzm at 12:51 AM on January 4, 2006


Wait for the official word...

Although they have not yet updated (at the time of this post), the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has Sago Mine notices on its home page, and an official status page.

The Elkins, WV Inter-Mountain (Randolph County) is the closest daily newspaper to the Sago Mine in Tallmansville (Upshur County). The U.S. Census Bureau has clickable WV county maps here.
posted by cenoxo at 1:15 AM on January 4, 2006


"The Explosion" -- Philip Larkin
On the day of the explosion
Shadows pointed towards the pithead:
In the sun the slagheap slept.

Down the lane came men in pitboots
Coughing oath-edged talk and pipe-smoke,
Shouldering off the freshened silence.

One chased after rabbits; lost them;
Came back with a nest of lark's eggs;
Showed them; lodged them in the grasses.

So they passed in beards and moleskins,
Fathers, brothers, nicknames, laughter,
Through the tall gates standing open.

At noon, there came a tremor; cows
Stopped chewing for a second; sun,
Scarfed as in a heat-haze, dimmed.

The dead go on before us, they
Are sitting in God's house in comfort,
We shall see them face to face -

Plain as lettering in the chapels
It was said, and for a second
Wives saw men of the explosion

Larger than in life they managed -
Gold as on a coin, or walking
Somehow from the sun towards them,

One showing the eggs unbroken.
posted by pracowity at 2:01 AM on January 4, 2006


Looks like this mine had 46 safety violations during there last inspection, several which are still unabated, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration. A few were for combustible material build-up

Nightcrome: the first thing metafilter produces is about how much capitalism sucks.Fascinating.

Tell that to the dead miners, I'd say. They'd certainly agree completely but guess what..dead people can't agree with anything :) pretty smart system if you will...you can disagree as much as you want when you are dead ! It rivals that religious idea that some dude called God will give you justice and all when you're dead :) Man oh man whoever concocted this scam is pure evil.

Therefore, these who survive disagree for the dead and twice vehemently.
posted by elpapacito at 2:31 AM on January 4, 2006


Thanks for acknowledging China's mining safety troubles, dhartung. It is too easy to be hypocritically caught up with the pathos of whatever is dished out on the nightly news, while ignoring the greater problems facing the globe.
posted by mek at 3:26 AM on January 4, 2006


i8ny3x: Sorry, but the plight of competing 24 hour news outlets doesn't exactly capture my empathy. The 12 people found alive thing was a completely unsubstantiated rumor that made its way into the church based on unverified, incomplete and faulty information. Of course, all the news outlets reported it as fact. What a clusterfuck. And completely inexcusable.

.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 4:17 AM on January 4, 2006


How can we have robots searching for water on Mars, but we still got men getting buried in mines?"

How can we have robots on Mars for two years and still depend on coal and gas for our energy? I doubt this rover is filling up at ExxonMobil up there.
posted by any major dude at 6:02 AM on January 4, 2006


Dhartung - those miners in the east die at a much higher rate because China has almost no regulation of their industry and treat their workers as expendable tools. No matter how dangerous the situation they can always find a person (among the billion poor) desperate enough to feed their families to go down in an unsafe well. That's the kind of America deregulations creeps like Dick Cheney yearns for and is creating. Get rid of all the high paying union jobs and bring back American industry in the mold of China. No benefits, no guaranteed pay, no minimum wage and workers paid on scrip they can only redeem at Walmart.
posted by any major dude at 6:07 AM on January 4, 2006


Everyone whining like the babies they all are after DEMANDING that the newsies tell us EVERYTHING IMMEDIATELY!!!

Then whine when a mistake is made.

Instead of whining, enjoy the fucked up world YOU have made yourselves.
posted by HTuttle at 7:04 AM on January 4, 2006


interrobang is right on; this whole media circus is almost as much of a tragedy as the deaths of the miners. At least the author of the link glimpses that.

To paraphrase Kanye West, America does not give a damn about West Virginia. 365 days a year it's nothing but the butt of jokes for shows like Family Guy. Then 13 men get stuck in a hellhole under the earth, and Anderson Cooper can't get there fast enough, though he can't be bothered to get the name of the town right. 3 weeks from now, that place will be a ghost town, with the families left alone in a vacuum with their grief and their poverty and their exploitation by the mining companies. They won't be interesting anymore once the funerals are over. Thanks a lot, CNN. Come back anytime.

And if that one lucky SOB manages to live through his injuries, he'll likely end up like the man who pulled baby Jessica out of the well, or the 9/11 firefighters, unable to cope with the burden of being a survivor when so many of his buddies died. He'll kill himself a few years from now, and the news won't even make it across the state line. Maybe he'll show up as a footnote in some NYT article about how Americans cope with tragedy.

I can't even watch the news coverage on this story; the cheap obsession with death and grief is sickening, and the real tragedies are covered up with a pile of slag.
posted by junkbox at 7:06 AM on January 4, 2006


people are trapped in a mine, and the first thing metafilter produces is about how much capitalism sucks.

Ever been done there? Know anything about it? These mine operators are evil incarnate, performing a cruel murderous form of capitalism.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:24 AM on January 4, 2006


(down there)
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:24 AM on January 4, 2006


Handwritten note from trapped miner, Fraterville mine disaster 1902.
posted by buzzv at 7:31 AM on January 4, 2006


God, I didn't realize where the mine was. I used to live near there; my ex is from Belington; my ex mother in law lives in Elkins. These are small, close communities that will be devasted. junkbox has it right, and America as a whole does not give a flaming shit about West Virginia, except as the butt of bad hillbilly jokes. Yeah, the mines are horrifyingly dangerous, but there's nowhere else to work. Yeah, the state is frighteningly corrupt; environmental protection is complete bullshit; strip mining still goes on, and nobody cares until people die, and after that they'll just go away again.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:51 AM on January 4, 2006


junkbox: 3 weeks from now, that place will be a ghost town, with the families left alone in a vacuum with their grief and their poverty and their exploitation by the mining companies. They won't be interesting anymore once the funerals are over. Thanks a lot, CNN. Come back anytime.

Look, morally, I agree with most of your points, but you seem to be arguing that CNN somehow owes these folks something. They don't. They send people where the stories are. And, whatever morality you assign to it, they do their jobs because, ultimately, people watch.

The US may not give a shit about WVA, but it tends not to give a shit about a lot of other places, too.
posted by TeamBilly at 8:47 AM on January 4, 2006


They send people where the stories are.

Yes and no. My comment goes back to interrobang's comment, There's a pretty blonde white girl down there, right? 'Cause otherwise, I don't give a shit.

The media chooses which stories to elevate and which to ignore, based primarily on what they think is most salacious and sensational. Missing white girls are exciting, missing brown girls aren't. 13 trapped miners in WVa is major news; 1 in 3 West Virginians living without health insurance isn't. Except that, in the long run, 1 in 3 West Virginians living without health insurance causes exponentially more pain, suffering and personal tragedy than 12 lost lives. It just doesn't happen LIVE! ON TV! OMIGOD!!11 IS THAT A BODY??!!? where we can all sit around and watch.

In order to make viewers tune in, journalists convince the public that they care, and therefore, we the viewers should too. It's an entirely disingenuous act staged in order to sell ads and boost ratings. But when you're the victim of the tragedy, when it's your child who's been kidnapped or your father who's trapped in the mine, it helps validate your own sense of pain, to know that millions of Americans are hoping and suffering along with you. In your darkest hour, you feel that there are people out there who care, who understand and who will help.

Except that your dark hours last longer than a 72 hour newscycle. And one day, you wake up and you can't make your mortgage payment because Randall won't go back in the mine and he can't get a job anywhere else. And there isn't anyone to help you. Everybody's gone. CNN and those millions of Americans didn't really care, they just wanted to use you for entertainment for a few hours, and then move on to the next horror story.

Whenever the media finds a local tragedy and turns it into a national event, it traumatizes the victims twice over. It's just extra ironic that this time it's in West Virginia, the most maligned and degraded state in the nation. What CNN owes them is some dignity and respect.
posted by junkbox at 9:24 AM on January 4, 2006


Saucy intruder: I'm not saying that people should feel sorry for big-wheeling media outlets. Far from it. I'm just saying you'll eventually get your news.

That said, this is an extreme example of what can happen in a 24-hour news cycle, and no one wants to break it to the grieving families that they had played with their hopes like that.

Junkbox makes some very poignant points.
posted by i8ny3x at 11:40 AM on January 4, 2006


And hopefully this will shed some light on W. Virginia's other long-term problems.
posted by i8ny3x at 11:47 AM on January 4, 2006


Oh, and though it doesn't make your points less valid, junkbox, 16 percent (and growing) of West Virginians are uninsured, slightly above the national average.
posted by i8ny3x at 12:02 PM on January 4, 2006


This is the one I've had running through my head over the news:

Dark As The Dungeon - Johnny Cash

Oh come all you young fellers so young and so fine
Seek not your fortune in a dark dreary mine
It'll form as a habit and seep in your soul
Till the stream of your blood runs as black as the coal

Where it's dark as a dungeon damp as the dew danger is double pleasures are few
Where the rain never falls the sun never shines
It's a dark as a dungeon way down in the mine

Like a fiend with his dope and a drunkard with his wine
A man will have lust for the lure of the mine
And pray when I'm dead and my ages shall roll
That my body would blacken and turn into coal
Then I'll look from the door of my heavenly home and pity the miner digging my bones

Where it's dark as a dungeon...

posted by availablelight at 12:51 PM on January 4, 2006


Ewan McColl's take is even better:

In the town of Springhill, Nova Scotia,
Down in the dark of the Cumberland mine,
There's blood on the coal and the miners lie
In the roads that never saw sun nor sky,
Roads that never saw sun nor sky.

In the town of Springhill you don't sleep easy,
Often the Earth will tremble and roll;
When the Earth is restless, miners die;
Bone and blood is the price of coal,
Bone and blood is the price of coal.

In the town of Springhill, Nova Scotia,
Late in the year of '58,
Day still comes and the Sun still shines,
But it's dark as the grave in the Cumberland mine,
Dark as the grave in the Cumberland mine.

Down at the coal-face, miners working,
Rattle of the belt and the cutter's blade;
Rumble of rock, and the walls close 'round:
The living and the dead men two miles down,
Living and the dead men two miles down.

Twelve men lay two miles from the pit-shaft;
Twelve men lay in the dark and sang.
Long hot days in the miners tomb:
It was three feet high and a hundred long,
Three feet high and a hundred long.

Three days passed and the lamps gave out,
And Kaehler Brushen, he up and said,
"There's no more water, nor light, nor bread,
So we'll live on songs and hope instead,
Live on songs and hope instead."

Listen for the shouts of the bare-faced miners,
Listen through the rubble for a rescue team;
Six hundred feet of coal and slag--
Hope imprisoned in a three foot seam,
Hope imprisoned in a three foot seam.

Eight days passed and some were rescued,
Leaving the dead to lie alone--
Through all their lives they dug a grave:
Two miles of earth for a marking stone,
Two miles of earth for a marking stone.
posted by oats at 6:23 PM on January 4, 2006


availablelight: try merle travis, kthxbye.
posted by keswick at 4:40 PM on January 6, 2006


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