Nightly News   |  April 06, 2010

Desperate hours drag on for mining families

As details of the tragedy in W. Wa. unfold, the pain of grieving family members is felt across the entire coal mining community. NBC's Ron Mott takes a look at the personal impact of Monday's loss.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

RON MOTT reporting: This is Ron Mott . For years the mine gave them all a livelihood; in an instant it took their lives. Miner Benny Willingham 's family longed to hold him today, cherishing 33 years of marriage to Edith celebrated just last Friday, retirement only five weeks away. But now that he's gone, they're left simply holding photos.

Ms. MICHELLE McKINNEY (Benny Willingham's Daughter): He loved to travel. He loved his grandbabies. He loved us. He was a family man, and he loved the Lord. We know where he's at, but we still want him back.

MOTT: It's a feeling that seems to echo from every dusty nook and cranny of these coal-rich hills.

Unidentified Reporter: Is an examination of the coal mining industry .

MOTT: Lunchtime at the pizza shop , chitchat at the convenience store because so many here depend on coal to survive.

Ms. ENGA COTTRELL (Convenience Store Clerk): It's very emotional, and -- because we're all family. I mean, it's just like brothers and sisters .

Unidentified Woman: Because I know that they're doing what they have to support their families, and I don't think any of them would change it.

MOTT: Yet, as sure as coal is a constant, and can even be a comfort in these parts, uncertainty and confusion about who survived, who died, who might still have a chance has filled the day.

Unidentified Man: You can't imagine, unless you have someone in there.

MOTT: Though the crushing reality has arrived for many families, putting faith and loss at a crossroads. But not for Pastor Gary Williams . He's also a miner.

Pastor GARY WILLIAMS: No one goes underground wanting to stay underground . They want to come home and come outside and go home to their families. We've got to put our faith in a higher power . That's the only hope we have.

MOTT: Tonight the pain is especially acute for one miner in particular. After leaving work on the day shift yesterday, his son, his brother and his nephew reported for the ill-fated night shift . All three are confirmed dead , Brian .

WILLIAMS: Ron Mott along with Tom Costello starting off our coverage tonight . Gentlemen, thank you.