Memorial to mark UBB explosion

FAMILY members and friends will today memorialize the second anniversary of the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in West Virginia.
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The Upper Big Branch mine

Donna Schmidt

Memorial events to mark the anniversary are scheduled for today and a minute’s silence will be held at 3.01pm local time to remember the 29 workers killed in the Raleigh County blast.

State governor Earl Ray Tomblin said: “Two years ago a tragic mining accident forever separated families from their loved ones and shattered a community.

“The men who lost their lives were more than hard working miners; they were sons, brothers, fathers, friends and fellow West Virginians.”

Tomblin said a wreath would be placed at the state capitol’s West Virginia coal miner statue to pay tribute.

A public wreath-laying ceremony will take place by the Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce at the Raleigh County Courthouse at 3pm.

UBB memorial project chair Mick Bates told local media that government officials would be in attendance along with a local color guard. He said the informal ceremony would include the observation of one minute and 29 seconds of silence as the color guard rang a ceremonial bell 29 times.

“By continuing to recognize the tragedy on April 5, we honor the men who lost their lives as well as all men and women who produce and mine the coal that has built our nation,” Bates said.

The public is also invited to attend a candlelight walk in Whitesville, where the UBB mine is located, beginning at 6.30pm tonight. Homes and businesses near the complex have been asked to place a luminary bag outside.

“Together we can light the streets of Whitesville and show our support ... it is necessary to do something to show the families that we have not forgotten them or that they still struggle to grasp that awful day two years ago,” organizers said.

Householders with US satellite providers DirecTV and Dish Network will also be able to view a documentary on the two-year anniversary that highlights the region’s coal heritage on the LinkTV network.

While April 5 will be a day of reflection for those impacted by the blast and the nation’s industry, many critics argue not enough progress has been made since the 2010 explosion.

However, during the past 24 months, the coal mining community has also gained much insight into what caused UBB. Investigation reports have already been released from the US Mine Safety and Health Administration, the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training, the United Mine Workers of America and an independent panel commissioned by former governor turned US senator Joe Manchin.

US secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said April 5, 2010 was “the single most heartbreaking day” of her tenure but looked at the strides regulators had made.

“Since [that day], my department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration has introduced tough new practices to counteract the type of misdeeds that were so prevalent at Upper Big Branch under its operator, Massey Energy, [and] MSHA continues to take major steps toward making sure that we never again see such a senseless loss of life,” she said.

“If every mine operator meets its legal obligation to ensure the safety and health of its workers, we can prevent another tragedy like the one at Upper Big Branch from ever happening again.”

Solis also said that she was committed to pursuing violators “with the full force of the law” in honor of those lost.

“I vow that those miners and families who suffered so grievously two years ago – and every day since – will never be far from my thoughts,” she said.

The 29 workers lost in the UBB explosion were Carl Acord, Jason Atkins, Christopher Bell, Greg Brock, Kenneth Chapman, Robert Clark, Cory Davis, Timmy Davis, Michael Elswick, William Griffith, Steven Harrah, Edward Jones, Rick Lane, William Lynch, Joe Marcum, Ronald Maynor, Nick McCroskey, James Mooney, Adam Morgan, Rex Mullins, Josh Napper, Boone Payne, Dillard Persinger, Joel Price, Gary Quarles, Deward Scott, Grover Skeens, Ricky Workman and Benny Willingham.

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