Deep Down Dark

Head shot of a small black statue of a coal miner with safety helmet and light

Five years ago yesterday, a massive explosion ripped through a West Virginia coal mine leaving twenty-nine miners dead.

The April 5, 2010, explosion at the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine left death, grief and anger in its wake.

I wasn’t thinking about the UBB anniversary when I checked out my latest book from the Marion County Public Library two weeks ago, but the selection turned out to be timely as well as thought-provoking.

This morning I finished reading Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free, by Hector Tobar.

As I closed the book, I realized that the Chilean mine disaster happened in the same year as the UBB explosion.

On August 5, 2010, a massive cave-in at the San Jose mine trapped thirty-three miners thousands of feet underground.

For seventeen days, nobody knew if they were dead or alive.

When the world finally made contact with the miners and learned they were all still alive, a massive and ultimately successful two-month rescue attempt was launched.

The men survived against all odds, exhibiting teamwork underground and inspiring teamwork among rescue workers up on the surface.

At several points while reading the book I found myself in tears.

It’s a poignant story and the tears were generally tears of empathy and/or joy – knowing there was a happy ending.

But yesterday, while reflecting on the tragic outcome at the April 2010 UBB mine explosion here in West Virginia, those tears were of a different kind – tears of sorrow for the families and tears of anger at the economic reality that allows companies like the ones that ran UBB and the Chilean mine to prioritize money over men.

Following the UBB disaster, investigators concluded that flagrant safety violations contributed to the explosion and the loss of life.

And that’s deep, down dark.

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