The Tragedy in Montcoal
photograph from Coal Tattoo
I’m sure many of us have been following developments in Montcoal, West Virginia, as rescuers have worked relentlessly to find the miners trapped inside the Upper Big Branch Mine. News has come this morning that the rescue efforts are being delayed due to methane levels inside, and that twenty-five of the twenty-nine miners known to be inside at the time of the blast have died–making this the worst coal-mining disaster this country has seen in twenty-five years. For updates throughout the next few days, visit Coal Tattoo, an outstanding blog by Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette.
This devastating news also came during the same week that the EPA released new guidelines that would, as Mr. Ward reported, virtually eliminate mountaintop removal mining. While we rejoice at this news, our thoughts and prayers go out to the families in Montcoal.
There’s a rich artistic tradition dealing with coal-mining and all its social and political meanings. In this space we’ve highlighted the gorgeous music of Nimrod Workman and the groundbreaking work of Appalshop. But I’d like to offer here a bit of Lee Sexton’s music, as it speaks to the sense of community and goodwill that is just as much a part of Appalachia as is coal. Mr. Sexton is a former miner himself, and he is, without argument, a national treasure. His Whoa Mule, released by the June Appal label, is essential listening.