Vigil Held for Lost West Virginia Miners

A candlelight vigil was held last night in Barbour County, W.Va., for the 12 men who died in last week's Sago Mine explosion. People shared poems songs, and scripture as a way to comfort the community. Emily Corio of West Virginia Public Broadcasting reports.

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A candlelight vigil was held last night in memory of the 12 men who died last week after an explosion in a mine in West Virginia. People shared poems, songs and Scripture as a way to comfort the community. Emily Corio of West Virginia Public Broadcasting has more.

EMILY CORIO reporting:

A crowd of people gathered on the grassy lawn in front of the Barbour County courthouse. The gazebo was the stage for speakers at the evening ceremony. A local coal miner's wife wrote a poem about her husband's profession. It was read aloud by Lisa Hart, a county commissioner's wife.

Ms. LISA HART (Wife of County Commissioner): (Reading) `Fancy their fears every day with their fright, they pushed ahead with all of their might. Not knowing what is in store down under there, they simply sit down and ahead they stare.'

CORIO: People from the area, many who knew at least one of the miners, held small candles and listened as the deceased miners and the one survivor's names were read aloud.

Mr. TIM McDANIEL (Barbour County Commissioner): James A. Bennett. Jerry Groves.

CORIO: Barbour County Commissioner Tim McDaniel read the names as another person lit candles on a table in front of the gazebo. Four small crosses stood in the lawn nearby. Each had the name of one of the four miners from Barbour County. A miner's hat also sat on top of each cross. A couple of the crosses had pictures attached to them, one of a man with a young girl and another of a husband and wife. Candles and flowers were spilling onto the lawn surrounding the crosses.

Barbour County is just north of Upshur County, where the Sago mine is located. Tim McDaniel worked at the Sago mine in the 1980s but left coal mining to become a schoolteacher. He taught David Lewis, one of the miners who died last week.

Mr. McDANIEL: He was a nice young gentleman, and took his studies serious and was a fun-loving student.

CORIO: David Lewis grew up on a dairy farm. The farm is just down the road from Betty Miller's home. In the early 1970s, Miller went to high school with Jack Weaver, who also died in last week's mine disaster. She didn't keep in touch with him after school, but coal mining is a way of life that Miller knows well.

Ms. BETTY LEWIS: My grandpa was a coal miner. My dad, retired coal miner and had been injured in the mines before. And my brother's still a coal miner in the deep mines. So in this town, everybody sticks together.

CORIO: Marvin Brown worked underground for 20 years. He worked with several of the miners who died, but he says he knew Jim Bennett the best. The two men worked at Spruce Mine together; it's close to the Sago mine. But Brown was laid off when International Coal Group took over last year.

Mr. MARVIN BROWN: His basket was right beside of mine. And so we talked a lot about coal mining, about our future, what we was going to do. And he had said how in April, this coming April, he was going to retire. He was 61; he would be 62 in April.

CORIO: Brown said Jim Bennett wanted to spend more time with his family and help others through his church. Once a week, Bennett would spend an evening making visits to people in the community who were sick.

Mr. BROWN: That was the kind of a heart he had was to help people.

CORIO: The vigil also focused a lot on faith. Several local ministers offered prayers.

Unidentified Man: We pray as a community that you would give us strength and that you would comfort the families of the miners, that you would comfort us in our sense of loss and our sense of confusion and trying to understand what happened.

CORIO: Local musician Tommy Datisman(ph) stood in the gazebo and played an old song that he wrote about coal mining disasters.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. TOMMY DATISMAN: (Singing) Coal-black coal, why do you glisten? Just like a corpse, Lord, you lie so still.

CORIO: While the song talks about mining tragedies, people at the vigil talked about coal's strong ties to the region, how it's part of everyone's heritage and often a family tradition. One woman said even this disaster won't stop miners from going back in. For NPR News, I'm Emily Corio.

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