Tension, Emotion Run High at Mine-Safety Meeting In Buckhannon, W.Va., two-day hearings begin about the Sago Mine accident that killed 12 people on Jan. 2. Family members of the dead miners gave statements, and company officials presented their take on the accident, as well.
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Tension, Emotion Run High at Mine-Safety Meeting

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Tension, Emotion Run High at Mine-Safety Meeting

Tension, Emotion Run High at Mine-Safety Meeting

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We turn now to West Virginia, where the families of a dozen coal miners who died in the Sago Mine disaster gave wrenching testimony today. In the hearing room at West Virginia Wesleyan College, photos of the victims line the wall behind the podium. Amber Helms lost her father in the accident.

AMBER HELMS: Terry Michael Helms is why I'm here today. I hope that being here today and tomorrow, I can get several questions answered, such as, that morning, did he call out? Who answered his call? And what was actually written in the books that we can't find, the fire boss books?

NORRIS: That's Amber Helms speaking today. The tape is from CNN. Miner Randall McCloy, Jr., who was rescued after 41 hours, did not participate in the hearing.

West Virginia Public Radio reporter Emily Corio was in Buckhannon, and describes the scene.

EMILY CORIO: It was very emotional and very moving to hear what the family members were saying about their husbands and their sons and their brothers and their dads. It was very sad and there was a lot of crying and hugging going on as people were standing up and talking about their loved ones who died in the Sago Mine.

NORRIS: Did those family members and the investigators learn anything more about the cause of the explosion in the course of this hearing?

CORIO: Well, I think that remains to be known. The company, of course, came out in March and said that they think the cause of the explosion was a lightning strike. But state and federal investigators have not come to that same conclusion yet, but they haven't ruled it out either.

But family members were asking questions about the cause of the explosion. They don't seem to agree that it might have been caused by lightning strike or, if it was, they still want more answers about, you know, why the lightning strike would have caused a fire inside the mine — or would have caused an explosion, rather, inside the mine.

NORRIS: In that clip from Amber Helms, we heard a series of questions she was asking. She mentioned the logbooks. Can you tell us a little bit more about?

CORIO: Yeah, that came up also with another, a miner's wife who spoke. She spoke about logbooks that belonged to another fire boss. That boss actually lived from the explosion and she said, according to some testimony, that his books were stolen out of his jacket pocket. That's what he said in his testimony during these investigations.

But she doesn't really buy that, she says, and she wants to know what happened to these books and why they can't find this information, because the books would contain any information that the fire bosses would have noticed as far as the condition of the mine preshift, when they examine it before the shift starts.

NORRIS: Stolen by whom?

CORIO: Well, she wasn't sure and we're not sure, either. You know, it did raise an interesting point.

NORRIS: How did the audience respond during this testimony and also the panel, the folks that they were talking to when they were at the podium?

CORIO: Well, the panel members, the officials, remained pretty stoic and, but in the audience, the family members, if one family members said something that they all agreed with, like, for example, when Debbie Hamner, who's the wife of one of the miners, said, you know, lightning? Lightning? That the company says that lightning was the cause and you heard someone in the audience yell out, no way. And she said, you got that right, and then went on with her explanation.

NORRIS: What happens next, Emily?

CORIO: Well, the hearings will continue through tomorrow and of course the federal and state investigation will continue for another couple of months. The West Virginia Governor, Joe Manchin, is hoping to get a report on the investigation in midsummer.

NORRIS: Thanks so much for speaking to us.

CORIO: Okay. Thank you.

NORRIS: That was Emily Corio. She's a reporter with West Virginia Public Radio. She was speaking to us from Buckhannon, West Virginia.

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