Memorial Draws Mining Communities, Obama Together President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden travel to Beckley, W. Va., Sunday to attend the memorial service for the 29 miners who were killed on the job earlier this month at the Upper Big Branch mine. For more, guest host Jacki Lyden talks with NPR's Don Gonyea in West Virginia.
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Memorial Draws Mining Communities, Obama Together

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Memorial Draws Mining Communities, Obama Together

Memorial Draws Mining Communities, Obama Together

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden, in for Liane Hansen.

In the small mountain town of Beckley, West Virginia, some 4,000 people will join in a public memorial for the 29 miners who lost their lives in the April 5th explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine. It was the worst mining accident in the U.S. in four decades. President Obama and Vice President Biden will both attend the midafternoon service. President Obama will deliver a eulogy for the lost miners.

In a moment, we'll hear the latest developments about the mine's owner, Massey Energy. First though, we'll go to NPR's Don Gonyea for a preview of today's memorial. He joins us in Beckley. Good morning, Don.

DON GONYEA: Good morning.

LYDEN: First, Don, what's the scene there in southern West Virginia as they prepare for this public and final farewell?

GONYEA: Well, it's overcast. There is off-and-on rain. It all seems very fitting. I mean, this is a very sad day. And I can tell you, driving around last night, there are all kinds of makeshift memorials that have sprung up, that remain in the nearby town of Mount Hope. Twenty-nine miners' helmets and crosses line the main street.

It seems like every restaurant, every convenience store, there's, you know, there's a handmade sign or some tribute, something that says, you know, pray for our miners.

LYDEN: A week after the accident at the Upper Branch Mine, the president made a statement in the Rose Garden, critical of the company's safety record - and of regulators, for failing to provide adequate oversight. What do we expect to hear from him today?

GONYEA: Well, today, he's going to have a private meeting first with families of the miners. He'll get here at about 3 o'clock, and that will all be closed press.

But when he actually delivers his remarks, it's going to be about the letters that have poured into the White House, how people have written: I'm the son of a miner, I'm a coal miner's daughter. And he's going to pay tribute to this way of life and he's going to talk about that.

But the other thing that we will hear from the president, and this is from excerpts that were released yesterday by the White House: Our task here is to save lives from being lost in another such tragedy, to do what must be done.

LYDEN: What's the reaction been to the fact that both the president and vice president are attending?

GONYEA: Well, first, people are very pleased that they're here. I can tell you, they're not particularly popular here. The president did not carry West Virginia in the general election against John McCain; he did not carry it against Hillary Clinton in the primaries. But nobody's talking about politics today. The president and the vice president coming here, along with the labor secretary and officials from the Mine Safety Health Administration, their attendance says this is important, the world needs to see what happened here. And it's a chance to really, really pay tribute to those miners who were lost, and to be here for the families. And people are very appreciative that they are coming.

LYDEN: And Don, what comes next once the service is over?

GONYEA: Well, there'll be a full and lengthy investigation still. All of that is ahead. Public hearings are ahead. We'll have congressional testimony by miners and by company officials and by safety advocates. And while the official period of mourning now comes to an end, people here now are faced with having to move forward. And so many of them still work in the mines, have family in the mines, and the official mourning period ends but now, they try to move on with their lives.

LYDEN: NPR's Don Gonyea in Beckley, West Virginia. Thanks very much, Don.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

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