MANNINGTON — The Farmington No. 9 Mine Disaster will be remembered for its 54th anniversary at its memorial site located on Flat Run Road on Sunday.

The mine disaster occurred on Nov. 20, 1968 after an explosion. The cause of the explosion is still unknown. At the time, 99 miners were inside the mine; 22 were able to escape, but the 78 who remained stuck underground all perished. There were 19 men who were never recovered and their final resting place is in the mine, Sen. Mike Caputo, D-W.Va., said. Because of the explosion, conditions for miners significantly improved.

“We don’t only do this for those folks who are considered heroes, we do it for their families, as well. We can only imagine what those widows and children were going through at that very, very difficult time. So, we pay homage to the families and honor those men because it wasn’t until after that explosion that meaningful health and safety laws were enacted by Congress.

“So, those men did not die in vain, they made life better for coal miners that followed and saved thousands of lives,” Caputo said.

The service, which has been hosted by the United Mine Workers of America, will begin at 1 p.m. United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts will serve as the keynote speaker. For community members and family members of miners who died, it’s a chance to gather together almost like a homecoming.

“There’s no doubt that they appreciate that we are honoring what they did. Their family members can come back and for one day; everybody gets together to say thank you for the gift of the ultimate sacrifice to keep us safe,” UMWA District 31 Vice President Rick Altman said.

Because of the disaster and the widows of the miners marching on Capitol Hill, the Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 was passed. Caputo and Altman agreed that the disaster caused significantly better working conditions for miners including the way bolting, roof control and dust in the air is regulated, among other things.

Satellite imagery and news organizations are also partially to thank, Caputo said, because for the first time in history, people around the world and not just in small coal communities, could see the impact and devastation that explosions caused.

Altman and Caputo agreed that the goal is just to honor the miners and families involved and show appreciation to them.

“We celebrate the gift that they have given us. For the families that are still living — their fathers, grandfathers, brothers, uncles, gave the ultimate sacrifice. What they’ve done is help protect the next generation of miners that go underground today,” Altman said.

Caputo shared similar sentiments.

“It’s not about us, it’s about honoring those men and their families. We’re happy that we can do that. We feel strongly about health and safety and remembering our past and the sacrifices that were made, so we can have a better way of life in the coal mines. We’re going to continue this; the union is always going to have this service and we’re going to continue to honor those brave men and their families,” Caputo said.

Reach me at sshriver@timeswv.com or 304-367-2549.

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