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In a place where everyone knows everyone ...

Andrew Clevenger
Della Williams (from left), Bradley Peters and Angela Peters pose with the sign they made to show support for the community's miners in the wake of Monday's deadly explosion. The sign reads "God Bless our Miners & Families."

WHITESVILLE, W.Va. -- In their neighboring houses on Seng Creek Road, Della Williams and her daughter, Angela Peters, don't live in a place that sees a lot of traffic.

When someone drives through the hollow as they stand in their front yards, hands wave automatically, because they're almost certain to know whoever's driving.

So when Williams heard on her police scanner about Monday's catastrophic explosion at the nearby Upper Big Branch Mine, she and her daughter set about making a sign to show their support.

It reads: "God Bless our Miners & Families," with "In our prayers and in God's hands" underneath.

The banner is intended not just to comfort the families of the dead and missing miners, but to let all the men and women who work in the mines sprinkled throughout the towns that dot the Coal River know that they are loved.

"We just wanted them all to know they were in our prayers," Williams said.

Peters' husband, Jeff, runs a miner, as the machine that cuts coal out of a seam is called, at a Massey operation other than the one where tragedy struck on Monday. He knows many of the men involved. Peters' brother, Steven Williams, went to school with three of the miners who died.

It's not hard to find someone who knows one -- or more -- of the 25 dead miners in this community, where it seems that everyone knows everyone. ("Look, there's Goose!" Steven Williams said as CNN aired an interview with Stanley Stewart, an Upper Big Branch miner who was near the mine's entrance when the explosion hit.)

Jeff Peters was unable to eat for two days after the explosion, Angela Peters said. When he comes home from work, he watches coverage of the disaster on television, and paces in the yard when he can't take it anymore.

One day, a familiar face flashed across the screen. He didn't know the man's name, but he had known him for years from the casual gatherings that take place before each shift as miners talk over coffee at a nearby gas station.

"When he saw his face on TV, he put his head in his hands and cried," his wife said.

Della Williams is the daughter of a coal miner, the sister of two more, and the wife of a miner who's retired on disability.

For Williams, bearing up when hardship hits is a family tradition. Before she was even born, her father broke his pelvis when a piece of slate fell on him in a mine and laid him up for six months before he could go back underground. Nine years ago on July 8 -- which happens to be her birthday -- floods turned the road in front of her house into a rushing river.

"We've been through a lot, but God's always with us," she said. When times get tough, she relies on family, friends and God.

"I know that God is still the same yesterday, today and forever," she said.

As the search for the missing miners dragged into its fourth day, she continued to hold out hope for their safe return.

"I'm still praying," she said. "West Virginia is in for a miracle."

And she figured the missing miners are relying on their faith as well.

"I'd say, if they're still alive, they're holding hands and praying together."

Her daughter, who had baked 100 cupcakes for the families of the Upper Big Branch miners that morning, had a similar take on the drawn-out rescue efforts. She hoped that when the rescuers get to the final chamber, the miners inside will ask them: What took you so long?

Reach Andrew Clevenger at aclevenger@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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