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Front Page » August 5, 2008 » Opinion » Staff column: Anniversary of sadness in Carbon
Published 2,616 days ago

Staff column: Anniversary of sadness in Carbon

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Tomorrow it will be a year since the deadliest mine accident in our area since the Wilberg disaster in 1984 struck our minds and hearts with horrific force.

Tomorrow it will a year since we watched as the world's press descended upon eastern Utah to get a story that they hoped would turn out well.

Tomorrow it will be a year since families of the men who were killed had their hopes raised, then dashed time and time again.

And tomorrow, we will remember where we were, what we were doing and what we were thinking when we heard the first news of the cave in.

That morning, a Monday, was production day here at the newspaper. My first inkling that something was wrong came when someone from the Cable News Network called me and asked me if we had any photos of the possible damage caused by the earthquake in Huntington Canyon at a mine. It was early in the morning, and no one local had called me.

I immediatelly called our editor at the Emery County Progress to see what she had heard and she was just getting information herself and was going out the door to go to the Crandall Canyon Mine. At that point we knew nothing about how many people might be involved. We heard rumors from various sources that estimates ran from 50 to none at all. We hoped for the later.

By that afternoon it was clear that a number of men were trapped and that rescue efforts had begun.

The road in Huntington Canyon, where the mine road breaks off to the mine soon became a circus with trucks and vehicles crowding the edges as news crews from all over came to set up.

I remember standing there on the second day and a local, whose name I didn't get, asked me why this had become such a show as compared to the Wilberg Mine disaster in which many more people were lost. I couldn't answer him other than to say that the world of media had greatly changed in the last 23 years. Now local stories became national very quickly with the world wide news organizations and the internet.

As the days wore on the editor and a reporter from the Emery County Progress spent a lot of time on the mountain trying to get updates for our papers. At first they had to drive down the mountain to the mouth of the canyon to call us to give us updates; but then Emery Telcom put in a portable cell phone tower and things moved even quicker.

All the time rescue miners toiled underground and drill rigs pressed holes from above to find the now identified six men lost in the abyss.

Then came the next shock as rescue efforts produced three more dead, and many injured. The spotlight shifted to Castleview Hospital and Jeff Manley the hospital administrator, was thrown into a spotlight I'm sure he didn't want. The media spent a lot of time trying to get him to speculate on what had happened and all he could tell them was what he knew about the patients at the hospital. Then to kind of relieve Jeff of the pressure Joe Piccolo stepped up to the camera as the mayor of Price and said a few words. The media suddenly realized here was a man who had lost his father to a mine accident in the 1950's and they went after him. After the press conference he and his wife were on Anderson Cooper's CNN show for 20 minutes discussing the issues, the good people of eastern Utah and what coal mining means to our area.

The representation of both these men, along with Mayor Hillary Gordon of Huntington, gave our rural area a wonderful, caring and intelligent face to a world wondering what would happen next.

Underground rescue efforts ceased after that, and then after drilling two more holes into the mine, and finding little but piled up rubble, the rescue was called off. Within 24 hours the worlds media trucks were gone from the canyon and only a few upstate reporters remained in the area.

In the last year media types from various places have come to pick up stories of what has been going on since the disaster; they have reported on the investigation, the reports, the memorial that is being put together by Karen Templeton.

But regardless of their time here, they don't seem to gauge the feeling that a coal mining area feels when it loses some of its heroic sons to the depths of the mine. They move onto other stories, some more horrific if there can be anything worse than what happened here.

We who live here, on the other hand, will have a sadness about us for a long time at the beginning of August for many years.

In the last few months I have been trying to compile a list of injuries and deaths that were reported during coal mining operations in local papers here since the Eastern Utah Telegraph began in 1891. This mess in the mine made me think about all those that have died and suffered to bring black energy up from the ground in eastern Utah.

I find that we remember as a group those that were lost at Winter Quarters and Castle Gate, because it seems so long ago and so far away. We remember more vividly and individually those that died at Wilberg and in Willow Creek because those disasters are so much more recent. And of course none of us can forget what happened last year at Crandall Canyon.

But what most of us don't recall are those miners who were picked off one at a time over the years, or those that lost limbs, or their livelihoods by injuries that never allowed them to work again. My list grows longer every time I visit the CEU library and look at the archives or seek out information from digitized newspapers. Digging for these miners names through all that written material is much like what I have had to do to bring back the names of those that died in wars for our veterans specials each fall. But the difference is that often with soldiers I can get a name and a photo; with many of these miners no photo we know of exists, and in some cases the reports only say that an immigrant miner died in a mine. No name is given.

When it is done, I hope we as a newspaper are able to pay homage in some way to all those that built this area with their lives and livelihoods.

Still, this week we must think about those men who were here last July and suddenly were taken away from their families at the first of August. Everyone I know in this area knew at least one of them, even if just casually.

Spend a minute tomorrow quietly thinking about them and in your thoughts, pay your respects to them for what they gave us all.

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August 5, 2008
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