Cecil Roberts

United Mine Workers International President Cecil E. Roberts addresses families and loved ones of the miners who died in the November 1968 Farmington No. 9 disaster via video in this year’s virtual memorial service.

FAIRMONT — On this day in 1968, the Farmington No. 9 Mine exploded in a burst of gas and dust, trapping miners inside resulting in the death of 78 people.

Mike Caputo, a West Virginia Delegate and former vice president of United Mine Workers of America International District 31, said today he will be thinking about not only those lives lost, but the difference the miners’ sacrifice made in workplace safety regulations across the country.

“Nov. 20 is always a day that coal miners, particularly in this area, will remember or should remember forever,” Caputo said. “It was their families who lobbied on Capitol Hill to make sure other families didn’t have to go through what they went through.”

The UMWA normally holds a memorial service the Sunday before the anniversary of the disaster on the site of the sealed mine, but the coronavirus pandemic put a stop to what is normally a gathering of about 100 people.

Instead, the UMWA created a video memorial service that features all of the speakers and musical guests who normally attend the event. The video service is posted on the organization’s Facebook and YouTube pages. The Facebook video has more than 4,000 views already, and Caputo said it has gotten a good response from the people who normally attend the memorial.

“We have gotten a good response,” Caputo said. “We have gotten a lot of people who certainly said they understand that we couldn’t be there in person, and appreciated that we were able to do this in a virtual matter.”

Rick Altman, president of the UMWA International District 31, acted as the video’s main speaker, and said the positive reception to the video shows that the disaster is still important to residents of the area.

“There has been over 4,000 views,” Altman said. “One woman said she cried at how well it was done. That’s the responses that we are getting that this disaster has not been forgotten by anybody.”

Altman also said the shift to a virtual format reinforces the importance of the sacrifice made by the 78 miners who died in No. 9. He said it is important for the UMWA to support the safety of everyone, and encouraged people to watch the video memorial as a tribute to the people who passed away while doing their jobs.

“The safety of everybody matters, coming home from work alive and healthy matters,” Altman said. “This No. 9 has brought so many families together that what I would hope is that not only West Virginia but this nation can take from this is that no matter what your race, your sexual [orientation] no matter what, we all work together to keep others safe and sound.”

Email Eddie Trizzino at etrizzino@timeswv.com and follow him on Twitter at @eddietimeswv.

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Eddie Trizzino has been a reporter with the Times West Virginian since August of 2017, covering the entertainment, business and health beats. He spends most of his time listening to records, going to the movies and strolling through the town.

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