MOUNT HOPE, W.Va. -- First, Melvin Lynch felt his ears pop. Then the power went out at the mine where he was working. But he only learned about the explosion that killed his elder brother and 24 other colleagues about an hour later when crews working the other side of the mine emerged and told him of flying debris.
"It started to sink in then,'' Lynch, 50, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Lynch's brother, Roosevelt, died in the blast but Melvin Lynch, who was on the other side of the mine, emerged unscathed. Now he's left to mourn his 59-year-old brother, a grandfather of three who had worked in the mines for 30 years.
Still, though, Melvin Lynch said he's prepared to return to the underground. He's been working the mines since 2000, and he said there aren't many other options in his tiny West Virginia town, about an hour's drive from the mine.
"People walking down the street can get hurt,'' he said. "I don't know what else I would do -- work for a utility company? Railroad? Other than that, I'd only find a mediocre job making less money.''
He said he could go back to work as early as next week if called upon. In some ways, he said, returning to the mines will help honor the memory of his brother.
"It's really not that bad,'' he said. "When you've been a coal miner for so long, you know the risks. It's no different than going into the military.''
His wife Pamela said she'll back his decision and continue to pray he comes out safe.
"If he wants to go back to work, he should,'' she said. "That's what he does. And I'm behind him 100 percent.''