MONTCOAL, W.Va. — Ramona Williams prayed silently yesterday for her brother's safe return.
Williams' family learned a day earlier that her brother, Ronald Maynor, was among the missing after an explosion at the Performance Coal Co. mine.
Fourteen of the 25 coal miners killed in the explosion had not been identified as of yesterday. The fates of four other miners were unknown.
"There's four that are still unaccounted for, so that is giving me hope that God will bring him home," Williams said. "God will bring him out of the mines."
Tears fell from her face as she continued, "That's what I'm praying for. That's what I'm hoping for, and that's what I want to see."
Authorities say they hope the four found a chamber in the mine where food, water and oxygen stores can keep up to 36 people alive for several days.
Williams was hopeful, too. She awaited word about her brother, who turns 33 this month, as officials began drilling vents into the mine to relieve a dangerous buildup of methane, which is believed to have caused Monday's explosion. The vents were necessary to allow rescue work to resume.
Those living in small mining towns in this area joined her vigil, waiting for news from the Upper Big Branch Mine. Williams said her family had not heard from the mine's owner, Massey Energy. The Mine Safety and Health Administration was giving regular updates.
If the federal agency didn't give those updates, Gov. Joe Manchin said the state would.
"The policies from a corporate side, I can't speak to," he said during a midday briefing, addressing Massey Energy's silence. "But I know one thing: We're going to make sure that the state every two hours is rotating and going down and telling them what we know, however little it may be or however much."
Yesterday, 18 families were waiting to hear whether their loves ones were among the miners killed but as yet unidentified, or among those still missing.
"I know, sitting there, a minute seems like an hour, an hour seems like a day, and a day is an eternity," Manchin said.
Mack Honaker, 23, said the families need to grieve and heal.
"They just need to know," said Honaker, who works in a different Massey-owned mine.
Honaker said he was underground when he learned of the accident Monday night. ""They called in and told us," he said."
"It's just terrible that something like this happened so close to home," he said. "I wish that it hadn't. It's bad for everybody."
Honaker's wife, Jennifer, said no one knew what was happening when ambulances started converging Monday.
"I didn't know if it was his mine, and everyone was calling saying that it was," said Jennifer, 20.
"I just feel so fortunate that he is fine and so sorry for the other families," she said. "I wouldn't know what to do if it was me."
In Stickney, about a mile down the road from Montcoal, brothers Dell and Danny Alderman were likewise solemn as they sat together yesterday.
Danny, 62, is a disabled coal miner. Their father was a miner who died at 43.
"I've worried about Danny many times, so I can sympathize with the families," said Dell Alderman, 49.
"It's just a terrible situation any way you look at it," he said, adding that he hopes the explosion focuses people on the issue of mining safety.
"It's bringing everybody in the community together," he said. "But you know who I wish it would bring together more than anybody? The guys that work down there. This ought to open their eyes up to what mining safety is all about."
Courtney Clark writes for The Register-Herald of Beckley, W.Va. Reach her at email@example.com.