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April 7, 2010

Miners' families holding onto hope as they wait for news

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."

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