“One year ago, 29 hard working miners perished,” Tomblin said at a memorial service Tuesday at Whitesville Elementary School. “We will never, ever forget them.”
Tomblin was one of many state and federal officials that spoke Tuesday evening at the service that commemorated the one-year anniversary of the mine disaster that happened on April 5, 2010.
U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said he was there with the families the day of the tragic disaster.
“Today, we remember the 20 courageous miners who lost their lives at Upper Big Branch a year ago,” he said. “Our wounds from that tragedy are still fresh. I was there with the families as we prayed for 29 husbands, fathers, brothers, sons and grandsons, and it is not something I will ever forget.”
Rockefeller said during that great time of despair, he saw the very best of what it means to be a West Virginian.
“People opened up to one another, comforting and taking care of those around them,” he said. “I thank the first responders and mine rescue teams for their recovery efforts on that fateful day, and the families, friends and communities
for their prayers and support. I hope that the survivors have some measure of peace on this day, and that our nation never allows such a tragedy to happen again.”
U.S. Senator and former governor Joe Manchin spoke at the service as well.
His appearance came just hours after he delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate.
Manchin said he wanted to honor the miners’ families for their courage, sacrifice, and their extraordinary strength. He also said West Virginia’s miners are the backbone of our country.
“Gayle and I, and all West Virginians, pray for continued strength and courage for the families who lost loved ones on this sad day a year ago,” he said.
Other speakers at the service included West Virginia Congressman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and Congresswoman Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), as well as U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.
“President Obama sends his thoughts and prayers,” Solis said. “We will always remember so that we can make sure this never happens again.”
In Whitesville, residents are still coming to grips with the state’s worst mining disaster in more than two decades. Part of that process continued Sunday, when President Obama spoke at a eulogy for the 29 coal miners who died in the accident.
Obama offered not only condolences, but also a concrete commitment to mine safety reform.
“In the days following the disaster, e-mails and letters poured into the White House,” Obama said. “Postmarked from different places, they often begin the same way: ‘I am proud to be from a family of miners,’ ‘I am the son of a coal miner,’ ‘I am proud to be a coal miner’s daughter.’ They ask me to keep our miners in my thoughts. Never forget, they say, miners keep America’s lights on. Then, they make a simple plea: Don’t let this happen again.”
Massey Energy, the company that owns the Upper Big Branch coal mine also released a statement on the solemn date.
“As the one-year anniversary of the Upper Big Branch mine explosion approaches, Massey Energy continues to extend our sincere condolences and heartfelt sympathies to those families and communities who lost loved ones in this tragic accident,” the statement said. “The company remains fully committed to a thorough and comprehensive investigation that seeks to identify the primary causes of the explosion and provide answers to the UBB families and the communities we serve in Central Appalachia.”
Massey had a safety stand down at its 92 underground coal mines Tuesday.
“In honor of the beloved miners that we lost in last year’s accident, Massey Energy will idle production and hold a safety stand down at our 92 underground coal producing sections on April 5, 2011,” the company said. “In addition, Massey will conduct a company-wide, one minute and twenty-nine-second moment of silence at 3:02 pm Eastern Standard Time to pay tribute to the 29 miners who died in the UBB explosion.”
A cause has not been determined in the disaster at Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, but preliminary investigations by the Mine Safety and Health Administration suggest excess accumulations of methane gas and coal dust could be to blame.