Deep in the mountain of Harlan County Employed by the Cumberland coal company The pay is short, the days are long But our labor union laws are coming on strong So I drink this whiskey for my throat
Wear my hard hat and weathered coat Early every morning I stand in line Waiting to work these Kentucky coal mines
We enter the shaft around five thirty With two dozen hands, cold, callused and dirty We’ll dig through a million tons of rock and clay And we’ll still be digging at the end of the day Down on our knees we confess our sins And pray that the roof above don’t cave in
So bless our hearts and save or souls And the air we breathe down in the devil’s hole Just last week when the the ceiling fell The explosion trapped us in the depths of hell
The weight of the earth took poor Tucker’s life Leaving behind a hungry baby and wife We dug out with our shovels and picks But soon enough the black lung disease will make us sick
So bless our hearts and save or souls And the air we breathe down in the devil’s hole I work deep in the mountains of eastern Kentucky
I know if I leave Harlan alive I’ll be more than lucky Wish I could go to Texas and plant some cottonseed But moving takes money and I’ve got three mouths to feed So I drink this whiskey for my throat Wear my hard hat and weathered coat Early every morning I stand in line Waiting to work another Kentucky coal mine
AP Photo: This letter released by the Toler family on Thursday Jan. 5, 2006 in Flatwoods, W.... By ALLEN G. BREED, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 15 minutes ago
TALLMANSVILLE, W.Va. - Some of the 12 coal miners who died in the Sago Mine disaster scrawled farewell notes assuring their loved ones that their final hours trapped underground amid toxic gases were not spent in agony.
"Tell all I (will) see them on the other side," read the brief note found with the body of 51-year-old mine foreman Martin Toler Jr. "It wasn't bad. I just went to sleep. I love you. Jr."
Tom Toler, Martin's older brother who worked 30 years in the mine with him, said Thursday that the note was "written very lightly and very loosely" in block letters on the back of an insurance application form his brother had in his pocket.
"I took it to mean that it was written in the final stages," the brother said. "I'd call it more or less scribbling."
The miners died after an explosion that rocked the mine Monday morning. Eleven of the victims were discovered nearly 42 hours after the blast, at the deepest point of the mine, behind a curtain-like barrier set up to keep out carbon monoxide, a toxic byproduct of combustion that was found to be present at deadly levels inside the shaft. The 12th victim was believed to have been killed by the blast itself.
Autopsies were under way Thursday, and officials would not comment on the cause of death or how long the men might have survived.
John Groves, whose brother Jerry was one of the victims, told The Associated Press that he knew that at least four notes were left behind. He said his family did not receive one.
No note was found on the body of 59-year-old machine operator Fred Ware Jr., but daughter Peggy Cohen said she and other relatives who went to identify bodies at a temporary morgue were told by the medical examiner that some of the men wrote letters with a similar message: "Your dad didn't suffer."
"The notes said they weren't suffering, they were just going to sleep," said Cohen, who planned to retrieve her father's belongings to see if he had put such a note in his lunch box.
Cohen said her father had the peaceful look of someone who died of carbon monoxide, and the only mark on his body was a bruise on his chest.
"It comforts me to know he didn't suffer and he wasn't bruised or crushed," she said. "I didn't need a note. I think I needed to visualize and see him."
The sole survivor, 26-year-old Randal McCloy, remained in critical condition in a coma, struggling with the effects of oxygen deprivation to his vital organs. Doctors said he may have suffered brain damage. On Thursday afternoon, he was moved from a hospital in Morgantown to one in Pittsburgh for hyperbaric oxygen treatment.
The treatment helps get oxygen to the body's tissues, including the brain, and can help increase blood cells to fight infections or promote healing of injuries.
"Certainly Mr. McCloy is going to have a tough course," said Dr. John Prescott. "We just don't know at this point how things will turn out."
The miner's father, Randal McCloy Sr., told The Associated Press that he believes "in his heart" that his son's mostly 50-something colleagues decided during their last, desperate hours to share their dwindling supply of oxygen with his son because he was the youngest of the group and had two young children.
"Those men were like brothers. They took care of each other," he said.
There was no immediate confirmation from officials that the men shared their oxygen.
Each of the miners had breathing apparatus designed to provide up to an hour's worth of oxygen, but an expert said that time could conceivably be extended.
"A lot of it depends on the circumstances and how big you are and how much air you suck," said Terry Farley, an administrator with West Virginia's Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training.
Speaking of seeing his son on a hospital ventilator, the elder McCloy broke down in tears. "I bent over and kissed his head. I told him that I loved him," he said.
The first of the funerals are set to begin on Saturday.
Federal and state investigators were at the mine Thursday, seeking the cause of the explosion and a more detailed explanation for the miscommunication among rescuers that had relatives believing for three hours that 12 of the miners had actually survived.
Coal mine explosions are typically caused by buildups of naturally occurring methane gas or highly combustible coal dust in the air, but what exactly triggered that explosion remained unclear.
The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette reported Thursday that a federal contractor that monitors thunderstorms detected three lightning strikes within five miles of the mine within a half-hour of Monday's explosion. The contractor, Vaisala Inc., said two of the strikes, including one that was four to 10 times stronger than average, hit within 1 1/2 miles of the mine.
The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration cited the Sago mine for 208 violations of federal mine rules in 2005, a number an agency official said was higher than normal for a mine that size. Those violations included 18 orders shutting down parts of the mine until alleged violations were corrected, but none serious enough to shutter the entire operation.
Denver Anderson, who was in a group of miners just behind those who were trapped, still had red splotches on his face from the coal dust and rock that struck him from the explosion.
"It wasn't no explosion sound to me that I heard," he said. "It was just a big gush of air and heat and gravel, dirt, dust and smoke. I tried to turn around and throw my arm up to protect my face."
The explosion was West Virginia's deadliest coal mining accident since 1968, when 78 men were killed in an explosion. Sago was the nation's worst coal mining disaster since a pair of explosions at a mine in Brookwood, Ala., killed 13 people in September 2001.
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