‘I just knew’: End of the year mine disaster update

December 20, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

Dorean Price and her husband, Joel Price, vacationed at Disney just days before he was killed in the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.

We had back-to-back stories in the Sunday Gazette-Mail and in today’s Charleston Gazette as kind of an end-of-the-year look at the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster.

I worked a little bit on the first story, which was mostly my buddy Gary Harki’s interview with Dorean Price, who lost her husband in the disaster — just days after the couple returned from a vacation at Disney World:

“There was no work, no grandkids, just the two of us,” Dorean Price recalled.

They got home on Friday, April 2, and spent Saturday with their grandchildren. On Sunday, they went to church.

The next day was April 5. Price went back to his job operating the longwall mining shearer at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine.

Sometime around 3 p.m. that day, Price was deep underground. A massive explosion tore through the Raleigh County mine. Price and 28 of his co-workers were killed.

Looking back now on the Disney trip, Dorean, 52, remembers her husband showering her with gifts.

“During that time, I can’t describe it . . . . I just wanted to ask, ‘Why are you doing this? But I didn’t,'” she said. “You know how you get the feeling that things are too good? It was almost like things are so nice, I’m looking for the other shoe to drop.”

Then today, we followed up with a story from an interview I did with MSHA chief Joe Main last week.

But, as our Sunday story explained, this is the bottom line, really:

Upper Big Branch was the U.S. coal industry’s worst workplace disaster in more than 40 years — since the day that 78 other West Virginia miners died at Farmington in November 1968.

And the Upper Big Branch disaster was the low point of the coal industry’s deadliest year in nearly two decades.

Through Friday, 48 coal miners had died on the job across the nation, the most since 55 were killed in 1992, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. West Virginia accounts for 35 of this year’s deaths, the most in the state since 36 were killed in 1979.

Eight months after the deadly blast, federal and state investigations drag on. Criminal authorities continue to look into Massey’s safety practices, while company CEO Don Blankenship plans his retirement.

Two weeks ago, federal lawmakers in Washington voted down a mine-safety reform bill. Political leaders in West Virginia never even debated such a measure.

Coal prices are up, driven by heavy demand for steel and the potential for a cold winter.

In Southern West Virginia, 29 families are bracing themselves this week for their first Christmas without husbands, sons, brothers, fathers.

“It was pretty tough,” Dorean Price says. “. . . And then, this time of the year, it’s even worse.”

4 Responses to “‘I just knew’: End of the year mine disaster update”

  1. Thomas Rodd says:

    Gary Harki did a great job in that interview.

  2. c w kauffman says:

    The politicians in DC and in the state capitals just do not get it. They are working for the corrupt lobbyists and not the citizens, taxpayers, voters, and workers. Apparently the 2010 election results did not send the message, and looking at the 2012 emerging theatrics is there any reason for hope? The folks who made this nation what it was will be compelled to find a new strategy to determine the political leaders. As Albert Einstein said “Stupidity is repeating the same experiment and expecting different results”. Where is the man on the white horse?

  3. walnutcove says:

    C.W. Kauf:
    The man on the white horse is coming again in 2012 and will continue coming until they get the message. Just keep the horse feed ready and feed him as needed, he is carrying the answer. We just need to continue to impose that answer. It will make a difference eventually.

  4. Hi, I wanted to share a webpage with you about a song that a New Mexico singing group helped write for the NM Mining Inspectors meeting last year. The whole song can be heard there (at the New Mexico Tech site) – and we’d love to get it to the families in the area because we think they might appreciate knowing how the rest of the country is remembering them. One of the members of our band is a former hard-rock miner in Colorado, so we were there with you all in spirit.

    http://www.nmt.edu/news/4017-mine-inspector-pens-tribute-to-the-upper-big-branch-disaster

    The band website is http://www.holywaterandwhiskey.com Our prayers and thoughts are with all the miners and their families.

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