CHARLESTON, W.Va. - People in this small coal town prayed and hung banners in front of their homes Tuesday as rescuers launched a complicated effort to save four miners missing after a huge underground explosion killed 25 of their colleagues.
Gov. Joe Manchin says drills are in place to release highly combustible methane at a West Virginia mine where 25 people have been killed and four miners are still missing.
Manchin said at a news conference Tuesday that the rescue can't proceed until officials know whether the mine is safe to enter. Crews were bulldozing an access road so they could drill 1,000 feet into the earth to release gases and make it safe to try to find the four. They were feared dead after the Monday afternoon blast at a mine with a history of violations for not properly ventilating highly combustible methane.
Rescuers were being held back by poison gases that accumulated near the blast site, about 1.5 miles from the entrance to Massey Energy Co.'s sprawling Upper Big Branch mine. "The drills are in place now,"
Gov. Joe Manchin said at a news briefing Tuesday. An access road had to be created before they could begin drilling four shafts to release methane and carbon monoxide. Manchin said it could be Wednesday night before the first hole is drilled, but rescuers had to try.
"We told the families ... nothing is really going to change a lot between now and 8 o'clock in the morning," Manchin said. "We told them if they need to go get a bite to eat, take a shower or get some rest, this is the time to do it. They will continue to be updated every 2 hours."
For Timmy Davis Sr. and his family - like so many in the mountainous coalfields of West Virginia - descending into the mines was a way of life. So when Davis Sr. went into the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal on Monday with his two nephews, Josh Napper and Cory Davis, it was just another day in the family business.
This time, they never came out. An explosion shook the underground mine operated by an affiliate of Massey Energy Co. while Davis Sr. and his nephews were inside, killing 25 miners and leaving four others unaccounted for inside the mine.
Timmy Davis Jr. said Massey officials notified the family that his father and cousins were among the dead. Davis Jr.'s brother, Cody Davis, also works as a miner and was on his way into the mine when the blast happened. Now, he is without his dad - his best friend. Cory Davis won't be at any more family campouts in the mountains. Napper won't see his infant daughter grow up. Here is a look at others among those killed in the explosion.
Carl Acord shared a big Easter dinner with family on Sunday and doted on his infant grandsons, 9-month-old Chase and 3-month-old Cameron, said his sister Sherry Cline. "He was looking forward to riding them around on the tractor this summer," Cline said. "He kept talking about that at Easter dinner."
Acord also enjoyed fishing with his two sons, 24-year-old Cody and 19-year-old Casey. Even though he was about 6 feet tall, everyone called Acord "Pee Wee" - which he hated. "That was his nickname since he was a little tyke. It just stuck," Cline said. Acord, 52, had worked in mines for 34 years and liked the work, Cline said. But he told his family on Sunday that he was concerned about the mine's roof and worried about going to work Monday.
Jason Atkins was born and raised in Boone County, near the coal mine where he lost his life, said his father-in-law, Rick Withers. The 25-year-old miner and his wife, Amanda, 28, met when they were students at West Virginia Tech and got married in 2008, Withers said.
Amanda Atkins could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Withers said he was not sure when Atkins began working at the mine. "He was an hourly guy," Withers said. Atkins played second base on his high school and college baseball teams, but left West Virginia Tech without graduating, Withers said. He enjoyed playing golf. The state medical examiner's office said Tuesday that Atkins was among the dead.
Cory Davis played baseball in high school and followed his family into the mines. The 20-year-old from Dawes, W.Va., worked with his father, Tommy Davis, and cousin Timmy Davis Jr. at a surface mine, but all three were laid off in the past two years. And all three ended up at Massey. Cory Davis loved the outdoors and would often spend his weekends at a family camp on a mountaintop.
"We'd just run around, build a fire, ride four-wheelers," Timmy Davis Jr. said. "Our life was kind of boring. We're kind of hill folks. We stay up on the mountain."
Timmy Davis Sr. loved coal mining - and when he wasn't doing that, he was out hunting and fishing. "My dad was the best hunter and fisher you've ever seen. The biggest buck or bear would come to him so he could shoot them," said Timmy Davis Jr. "He's got five or six in here. He's killed a lot of big deer."
Davis Jr. said his uncle Tommy Davis and brother Cody Davis also were at the mine at the time and survived the blast. Cody Davis and his father were best friends, Davis Jr. said. Cody Davis was in his way in at the time of the blast, said Davis Jr., who works as a coal truck driver. "He loved to work underground," the younger Davis said of his father, who was from Cabin Creek, W.Va. "He loved that place."
Steve Harrah - known to his co-workers as "Smiley" - was "always thoughtful and would give you a hand," his father-in-law said. The 40-year-old enjoyed hunting deer in Pocahontas County, said father-in-law Jack Bowden Jr., who also is director of the Raleigh County Emergency Operating Center. Harrah lived in Cool Ridge, W.Va., with his kindergarten-age son, Zach, and wife of 10 years, Tammy.
His sister, Betty Harrah, said other workers thought of her brother as a good boss. "He wouldn't ask them to do anything he wouldn't get down in there and do," she said. "They went to the same high school, and they just knew each other and started dating," said Bowden, who choked up as he spoke. "It's pretty rough." Harrah was leaving the mine when the explosion happened. The mining company told the family that Harrah was killed instantly, Bowden said.
Josh Napper was a hulking man with a simple claim to fame: He could bench press more than 500 pounds. "If there was any way he could, he could have moved half that mountain," said Napper's cousin, Timmy Davis Jr. "That's about all he did was lift weights."
The 25-year-old Napper came to work in the coal mines just two months ago after working in the health care industry in his hometown of Rutland, Ohio, Davis said. "He made decent money in Ohio," Davis said. "He just knew it was more money underground. He came here for the money." Napper lived in Giles, W.Va., with his grandparents and spent his days off with his infant daughter, Davis said.
Gary Quarles' life was consumed by his wife and two children. The 33-year-old from Naoma, W.Va., took trips every summer to Myrtle Beach, S.C., with the kids, ages 9 and 11, as well as his wife. The family often went fishing along the New River there. "He liked to hunt and spend time with his kids," Janice Quarles said. "That was about it. That's all he did."
He liked to hunt everything from raccoons and deer to wild boar, and he had wanted to stay home from work Monday because his children were still on Easter break, she said. Janice Quarles said her husband was a quiet, laid-back man nicknamed "Spanky." She was told of his death by a Massey official. Gary Quarles started coal mining when he was 18. He was among those finishing a 10.5-hour shift when the explosion happened, his wife said.
Deward Scott met his wife, Crissie, when she was his karate student. The pair loved to go hunting together - Deward Scott taught her to bow hunt when they first met nearly 20 years ago, she said. They've been together ever since - usually enjoying the outdoors while hiking, hunting, fishing or gardening. The 58-year-old Montcoal resident had been a miner for 21 years and loved his job. But he also was kind and outgoing, Crissie Scott said.
"He was a Christian man who loved to help people," Crissie Scott said, her voice choking. "He's one of those people that once you met him, you wouldn't forget him." The company notified Crissie Scott that her husband was among the miners killed in Monday's explosion.
For Benny Willingham, retirement was just five weeks away. The 61-year-old from Corinne, W.Va., had been a coal miner for 30 years and spent the last 17 working for Massey, said his sister-in-law, Sheila Prillaman. Willingham and his wife were supposed to go on a cruise next month to the Virgin Islands.
"Benny was the type - he probably wouldn't have stayed retired long," Prillaman said. "He wasn't much of a homebody."