Friends and families of the four missing West Virginia miners struggle to hold on today but hope begins to slip away with news that the rescue efforts must be delayed because of high levels of poisonous methane gas in the Upper Big Branch mine ..
"It was the most agonizing thing I've ever witnessed," said Sheri McGraw, director of communications for the American Red Cross Central West Virginia chapter, told ABC News' Diane Sawyer.
McGraw was with some of the hundreds of family members who gathered overnight, following Monday's deadly explosion in Montcoal, W. Va., waiting for news. Today, the families learned that the death count had risen to 25, with four miners still unaccounted for.
It's the worst mining disaster since 1984, when 27 were killed in the Wilberg Mine in Orangeville, Utah. "I've been through Katrina, tornadoes, hurricanes, but the concentration of misery and sadness in one room was almost too much to bear," McGraw said. "They've held out quite a bit of hope throughout this very long ordeal, and I think that's when hope fell apart."
"The women just breaking down, knowing that they're not going to see husbands again," said McGraw. "I heard one lady say, 'Who's going to take care of me now?' and of course her friends and family were there to say, 'We'll take care of you. We'll take care of you."
Away from the gathering of the miners' families, residents of the small towns surrounding the mine said they felt the pain because they're all part of the same extended family.
"It hurts," said Nancy Platt, who owns a small restaurant where people came to talk after hearing the news. "It's affected everybody that lives here, whether you had anybody underground or not."
Janice Florentz a resident of nearby Whitesville, W. Va., knew some of the miners who were underground during Monday's accident. Florentz taught them when they were young kids in her Sunday school class.
"It's just a sad time right here," Florentz said. "It's sad for these young wives and these children."
"But I do know one thing, that this community will pull together and they will help one another," Florentz said.
Just down the road from the Upper Big Branch Mine, a group of miners and their families gathered on the stoop of the New Life Church in Whitesville. Still shocked by the accident, one young miner said that he tries not to worry about the dangers when he goes to work.
"Every coal miner knows that it could happen every day. We know it when we go underground, and we just hope it don't happen to us," he said.
In a region with poor education levels and even poorer job prospects, the miners face the dangers because it's the only chance some have to make a decent living. Nine out of 10 Appalachian men do not receive college degrees, and the mines offer them good paying jobs that aren't in fast-food kitchens or a Walmart.
When Sawyer visited a nearby Appalachian mine in 2008, she met one of those men, Jeremy Hackworth. The 18-year-old had wanted to be engineer in the military but turned to the mines for work after his girlfriend got pregnant.