West Virginia Mine Survivor: Blast Felt Like 'Hurricane-Force Winds'

"From the beginning to the end, the best word I can think of to describe the evening was agony," the Red Cross' Sheri McGraw said this morning.

She described how families clung to each other in a holding area, eyes trained on the door waiting for word from mine officials.

"These guys are tough -- tough as nails," Morgan Hall, who lost his best friend in the blast, said. "They know what they're stepping into. You just work safe."

Benny R. Willingham, 62, a miner who was five weeks away from retiring, was among those who died.

He had made plans to take his wife on a cruise to the Virgin Islands after retiring on May 13, his sister Jeanie Sanger told ABC News.

Though the ever-present risk coal miners face every day is thrust into the spotlight any time disaster strikes, Morris said miners just get up and go to work like everyone else.

"There's an inherent risk in there, but there's an inherent risk on the highway," Morris said. "I wouldn't do anything else."

West Virginia Governor: Situation After Mine Explosion Looks Bleak

The blast could be heard, and felt, for miles.

"Before you knew it, it was just like your ears stopped up, you couldn't hear," miner Steve Smith told ABC Radio. Smith said he felt the blast while working underground at another site about seven miles away.

"The next thing you know, you're just right in the middle of a tornado," Smith said. "We were able to make it, since we weren't that far underground right there at that side of the mountain.

"We just hurried up and high-tailed it back to the outside," he said.

Machin admitted that the situation looks very bleak, but urged people to remain hopeful, pointing to the miracle rescue of Randal McCloy, who survived the explosion at the Sago Mine in West Virginia in 2006, despite being trapped for more than 40 hours in a toxic environment.

"The families want closure," Manchin told reporters. "They want names ... these families are good people. Hard-working people. They understand the challenges. Right now I told them to do what they do best. Love each other and come together as a family."

One of the bereaved in the Sago Mine disaster, who lost his father, was now counseling families distraught over the loss of their loved ones, Manchin said.

The force of the blast was so severe, Manchin said, that the rail that "most of your equipment and shuttles and man trips run off [...] look[ed] like a pretzel" after the explosion.

"In West Virginia, our clergy is our grief counselors," he said. "I don't know how to explain it, the people were just so solid and they're coming together."

ABC News' David Muir, Cleopatra Andreadis and Lee Ferran, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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