I'm not a heavy sleeper. When sleep comes at all, it can be easily interrupted by the smallest audible disturbance. I think my brain never really quite goes fully into sleep unless I am full-on exhausted. At any rate, I fell asleep last night with Anderson Cooper's 360 on in the background. I woke at about midnight EST, disturbed by the TV. There were bells ringing, sounds of excited voices. I had gone to bed knowing that one of the thirteen trapped West Virginia miners had not survived. The body had been recovered close to the site of the explosion. The whereabouts of the remaining twelve was unknown. As I peeled back the fog of sleep and focused on the sounds coming from the TV, the message came to me clearly that all twelve of the remaining miners had been found and had been found alive. I smiled - I was so relieved for the families of the miners even as I grasped the tragedy of even one life lost. I went back to sleep somehow more at peace in the knowledge that a bigger tragedy had been averted in the safe location of the surviving miners.
This morning was a whole different story. I woke, as usual, at about 6:30am. The news was still on (I hadn't shut it off as I drifted back to sleep) and my brain rang with discord. CNN commentator Miles O'Brien was talking about the sole surviving miner, 27-year old Randal McCloy. Sole surviving miner? What had happened to the other eleven in the hours since my sleep had been interrupted? I couldn't grasp how they had survived 41 hours deep in the bowels of the Sago mine only to let loose their grip on life after help had arrived. I watched some more and discovered the terrible truth. The news that all twelve had been found alive had been a miscommunication. Someone coordinating at the command center had either misinterpreted or wishfully interpreted the message coming out of the mine from the rescue team. Only one had survived.
I watched further as they retold the story of having to go back to the church, in full celebration mode by this time, and inform the families that only one had survived. I watched the interviews with townspeople and watched the breathless clip of a resident running up to Anderson Cooper to relay the news that only one had survived. It was awful. I don't come from a coal mining family. I've never seen a coal mine. I struggled with the idea that the three hours of jubilation from the families made the knowledge of the loss of a family member that much harder. It really upset me and continues to do so. I can't imagine how it feels to have lost someone in this tragedy.
What bothers me also is the fact that, with the exception of the one miner killed in the initial blast, the remaining twelve were alive and employed every ounce of their collective knowledge and experience to do all the right things to help in their survival - to no avail. I'll restate - I don't know a thing about mines. I'm sure that there are methods and ways to deal with disasters and things progressed as quickly as they could under the circumstances. but I can't help but wonder - how long did they live? How short did they fall? An hour? A day? It's just heartbreaking.
My thoughts are with those who perished, the families they have left behind, and the town in West Virginia now permanently scarred. Godspeed.