"We got loved ones to take care of," he said. "Families without fathers, families without grandfathers ... some children not being took care of."
Eleven of the dead miners have been identified so far. Eighteen are still in the mine and 14 of those are known to be dead, leaving more than a dozen families to wonder whether their loved ones died or whether they can hold out hope that they are among the four possibly still alive.
One miner came out of the mine during the day shift but lost his son, Cory Davis; his older brother, Timmy Davis Sr.; and his nephew, Josh Napper, in the explosion. All three men have been recovered.
"I've never seen anything like it," Manchin told "Good Morning America" today.
But hopes are waning for the men still under the ground. A buildup of toxic methane gas forced rescue workers from the mine early this morning. With the threat of subsequent explosions high, officials decided not to risk more lives to reach those who are still underground.
With the vast improvements made in terms of mine safety, technology and education, an explosion of this proportion was likely the result of a perfect storm of events, according to Mike Rohaly, a retired mine engineer who spent about 15 years of his 35-year career underground.
"In this day and age this kind of mine disaster is unheard of," Rohaly said. "A lot of bad things have to happen at the same time, in my opinion."
While the tight-knit community is now bonded in shared anguish and grief, Rohaly said he'd expect a range of emotions as friends and family learn more about the accident.
"I'm sure the response will vary all over the board with the miners and their families," Rohaly said. "Some of them will go right back to work, some of them will not have anything to do with mining and move, do whatever they can to get away from it."
A Facebook page that sprung up shortly after the blast and quickly grew to tens of thousands of members listed condolences, prayers and outrage at mine safety.
"My father was a coal miner in WV in the 1930s," one poster wrote. "He told me of running out of a coal mine as fine silty dust trailed behind him. It appears mining is NO safer now than it was then!"
Massey Energy is one of the nation's largest coal producers, but has had a spotty safety record. The company paid out millions of dollars in fines last year alone after admitting to repeated safety violations.
Manchin said an investigation would come later.
"I don't know what happened," Manchin said. "We're going to find out and do everything in our power to never let this happen again."
Eddie Morris, a rescue task force member and third-generation miner who was at work in a mine more than an hour away, raced to the scene after receiving messages that there had been an explosion at Upper Big Branch.
Whether any survivors come out alive, he said, "God has everything to do with it."
Officials had said they hoped some of those missing were able to reach airtight chambers containing enough food, water and oxygen to help them survive for four days, Kevin Stricklin of the Mine Safety and Health Administration told The Associated Press. But rescue teams found the nearest of two such chambers empty.
"It does not appear that any of the individuals made it to a rescue chamber," Stricklin said at a news conference. "The situation is dire."