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Tuesday
Apr052011

One Year Later: West Virginia Miners' Families Seek Answers, Healing

Matt Sullivan/Getty Images(MONTCOAL, W.Va.) -- One year after an explosion ripped through the Upper Big Branch coal mine in Montcoal, W.Va., killing 29 men, survivors say they're still searching for answers amid what remains an overwhelming sense of loss.

"There just ain't no peace out there right now. There just isn't," said Charles Davis, 76, who lost his son Timmy, 51, and grandsons, Cory, 21, and Joshua, 27, in the accident.  "My boy, he was everything," he said, fighting back tears. "I can't look at the pictures. I can't say their names. The only thing I'd like to know is why it happened. I'm still waiting."

Federal and state investigators, initially hampered by lingering toxic gas, standing water and debris inside the blown-out mine, still have not released an official report on the cause of the explosion. But sources close to the investigation say a buildup of methane or natural gas in the mine shaft, ignited by a spark from a piece of mining machinery and fueled by combustible dust swirling in the air, was likely to blame.

The Upper Big Branch mine accident was the country's deadliest in more than 40 years.

Officials with Massey Energy, which owns the mine, have said an unexpected flood of gas seeping from an underground crack probably overwhelmed the mine's ventilation system just before the explosion.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), which enforces U.S. mine safety standards, however, has said Massey may have failed to follow the law. The company racked up more than 1,300 safety violations over the past five years, including 80 in the past month alone, MSHA records show. Many were deemed willful or gross negligence. And as recent as one month before the accident, records show inspectors cited the company for high levels of explosive dust, poor ventilation and flawed escape route plans at the Upper Big Branch facility.

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