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Congressional Delegation Pays Tribute To Upper Big Branch Victims

Reported: Apr. 4, 2014 10:24 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (Heath Harrison) -- Member of West Virginia’s Congressional delegation paid tribute to the victims of the Upper Big Branch explosion on Friday, the eve of the disaster’s four-year anniversary.

On April 5, 2009, 29 miners were killed in coal dust explosion at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine near Montcoal, W.Va. Four investigations found the blast was sparked by worn and broken equipment, and made worse by poor safety practices at Massey.

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller offered his thoughts in a news release.

“We must be focused only on remembering the 29 men who we tragically lost four years ago—and the families they left behind, who live every day with heartbreak because of that horrific disaster,” Rockefeller said. “Along with West Virginians everywhere, Sharon and I are praying for the friends and loved ones of the Upper Big Branch miners, and for the community that was forever changed by the tragedy.”

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, whose district covered the Upper Big Branch site, said more needs to be done to prevent another disaster from occurring.

“On the fourth anniversary of the tragic explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine, I am reminded of the good men we lost far too young, of those injured, of the families that still mourn and the communities that were forever altered,” Rahall said in a statement. “The Upper Big Branch miners are still owed our full energies and every effort to ensure that such a tragedy will never occur again. Failing to legislate to close safety loopholes exploited by Massey is akin to condoning the corrupt culture that resulted in so many unnecessary fatalities.”

Rahall said advocates of coal mining need to focus on workplace conditions.

“There is much more to defending coal country than fighting against the EPA,” Rahall said. “To be a champion for coal, one has to be a champion for the coal miner. Defense of the coal miner cannot stop at the mouth of the mine. It also must follow him into the mine, ensuring that working conditions are as safe and healthy as we possibly can make them. Our obligation to the 29 souls we lost four years ago is long overdue.”

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin spoke of the impact the disaster had on him as governor.

“Four years ago, 29 brave miners — proud fathers, strong brothers, beloved sons and honest neighbors — went to work and never came home to their loved ones,” Manchin said in a statement. “Not a day goes by that I don't think about that day. As governor at the time, I joined our entire nation as we grieved with their families for their tremendous loss, and today, with heavy hearts, we remember and honor their courage and the incredible strength of their families. Our hearts are still broken, and we will never forget their sacrifice.”

Manchin also spoke of the need to improve working conditions.

“This day will always serve as a reminder — a reminder of the love shared for our fallen brothers, a reminder that life is often too short and a reminder that we must always put safety first,” Manchin said. “The health and safety of our miners will always be our top priority, because no family should ever endure a preventable tragedy like the one at Upper Big Branch again. Although we have much to mourn today, Gayle and I – and all West Virginians – honor the memories of the dedicated souls who lost their lives, as well as their colleagues who continue their work with respect and dignity. Today, we pray for continued strength for the families who lost loved ones on that awful day.”

-- Photo: U.S. Dept. of Labor



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