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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal and state regulators on Monday began planning what they expect will be a long and complex investigation of last week's explosion that killed 29 workers at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County.
Some important details were still being worked out, such as what parts of the investigation would be conducted through some sort of public hearing format, and how two state bodies, one federal agency and the U.S. Congress would coordinate their probes.
Gov. Joe Manchin said Monday he has staff and attorneys working on proposed legislation concerning mine ventilation, the control of explosive methane and coal dust underground, and regulation of electrical equipment.
"Some of these laws haven't changed since the 1920s," Manchin said in an interview with the Gazette. "Mining has changed a lot since the 1920s."
Monday marked a week since the massive explosion rocked the Upper Big Branch Mine in what turned into the largest U.S. coal-mining disaster in 40 years.
Manchin commemorated the disaster with a wreath-laying ceremony at the state Capitol on Monday and urged residents to observe a moment of silence for the fallen miners.
"You can't stop tragedies. That's why they're called tragedies," said Philip Cash, a relative of fallen miner Michael Elswick. "And not to put the blame on anybody, but there are policies and procedures in place to keep this from happening."
Meanwhile Monday, U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration investigators huddled at the agency's training facility outside Beckley, and crews hoped to remove the final nine bodies from deep inside the mine by the end of the evening.
The state Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training was planning an investigation, and the separate Board of Coal Mine Safety and Health scheduled a meeting Tuesday to consider its role in looking into the disaster.
Also, Manchin has said he planned to bring in longtime mine safety advocate Davitt McAteer to either consult with him or to conduct some sort of independent study that would likely include public hearings later this year.
President Barack Obama has ordered Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and MSHA chief Joe Main to give him a preliminary report this week on the cause of the disaster.
"Let me be clear: We will thoroughly examine anything and everything that could have any bearing on what happened," Solis said in an e-mail response to Gazette questions. "We will do our best to keep the public informed of the investigation's progress, which will last as long as it takes to get all the facts."
Speaking at Monday's ceremony at the miner statue on the state Capitol grounds, Solis said, "I will do everything in my power to make sure that we prevent these kinds of tragedies."
Mine safety experts have said the explosion probably involved a spark igniting a buildup of methane gas, but was almost certainly made far worse by coal dust accumulations. The experts cited the horrendous damage described by rescuers who had been underground, and the mine's history of methane and dust control violations.