News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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April 10, 2010

Pride, concern for a home state

. — I have been out of West Virginia for more than 20 years. Although I still retain some accent, it is far less pronounced than what it sounded like when I first left home. But what I have found since I moved is that there is much pride in being from West Virginia.

Like most West Virginians, I own many WVU hats and shirts. When I travel and wear my hat, I often receive comments from folks who, like me, have roots in the Mountain State. Usually, the conversation starts with “Where are you from in West Virginia?” A tell-tale sign of a true West Virginian can be found in the answer; we usually name the county, not the city, in which we lived.

In the past week, there has been good and bad news coming from West Virginia. First, the Mountaineers basketball team was able to reach the Final Four in the NCAA tournament. This was their first appearance since Jerry West took them to the championship game in 1959.

Over the Easter weekend, I took my family to see relatives and, as we passed through Indianapolis, the Final Four banners — representing West Virginia, Michigan State, Duke and Butler — all were streaming down one side of Lucas Oil Stadium. Much like Hoosiers cheering on the Butler Bulldogs, the whole state of West Virginia was rooting on the Mountaineers in their quest for a championship. As we know now, they lost to Duke in the semifinals, but it was wonderful to witness their run. What a great season.

Then on Monday, the news of the mine explosion at Montcoal, W.V., turned the joy of the basketball success to sadness and grief for the families of the miners who were killed or injured.

I watched on my Facebook account as friends I grew up with called for prayers and thoughts for those folks. Like me, most of my friends left the state years ago, but we are still West Virginians at heart. The images of the families of the missing miners are heartbreaking as they await word on the fate of their loved ones. As of Friday, they still held out hope that the missing had gotten to one of the holding chambers, where there is oxygen and enough food and water to survive for four days. 

It was just more than four years ago that an accident at the mine in Sago, W.V., killed 12 workers. One miner, who was found after two days, survived. That 2006 tragedy held several similarities to the present-day disaster. WVU was playing against Georgia in the BCS Sugar Bowl football game at Atlanta. The excitement buildup to the game was depressed by the tragic news.

Up to that time, the deadliest mining accident in West Virginia occurred Nov. 20, 1968, in Farmington. An explosion, felt as far away as 12 miles, resulted in the deaths of 78 miners. I can remember how my family, filled with worry and concern, kept updated on that event. The images of people at the mine waiting to hear news is wrenching; I cannot fathom how hard that must be.

Mining coal is a dangerous occupation. The people of West Virginia who work in the coal mines are proud of the work they perform. They understand that they are part of the foundation of this country as they work to provide an energy source that is used for electricity to power cities and factories, and for processes such as steel-making and the like. They are proud of what they do, and they understand that the reward is greater than the risk. 

I am praying for the families of the folks in Montcoal as I know many people are around the country. At some point, determinations will be made about what happened and how to prevent more disasters. I hope that the finger-pointing does not overshadow the tragedy of the lives lost in the mine. It is hard to control Mother Nature, but I guess we have to keep trying. 

I am proud to be a West Virginian. I take pride, too, in the many attributes of my home state, not the least of which is its people.

B.J. Riley is the publisher of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4297 or bjriley@tribstar.com.

 

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