More than 100 hours after an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine Monday afternoon, the final four missing West Virginia miners were found dead, officials announced early Saturday, extinguishing hopes of a miracle that they might have taken shelter.
“This journey has ended and now the healing will start,” Gov. Joe Manchin told reporters.
The final death toll reached 29, marking the worst mining U.S. mining disaster in 40 years.
Rescue teams found that neither of the refuge chambers were used after the explosion, Manchin said.
“There’s 22 bodies that have to be moved,” said Kevin Stricklin, a federal Mine Safety and Health Administration official, about the mine rescue effort turning into recovery effort. Seven other miners’ bodies were previously removed from the mine.
Stricklin said that none of the 22 miners had a chance to use their emergency breathing devices, known as SCSRs.
Miners’ bodies will be taken for autopsies before being returned to families, Manchin said.
“They are in a better place and they did not suffer getting there,” said Rep. Nick Rahall, whose coalfields district includes the mining community.
After all the bodies have been removed from the mine, officials attention will shift toward finding the cause of the explosion.
“No stone will be left unturned,” Stricklin said, adding that the only good thing that can come from the disaster is educating the public and potentially putting additional regulations in place.
Conditions inside the mine are still tough, and crews are being careful to avoid another accident or injury, he said.
Stricklin warned that it could take up to a year before a final report is issued on the cause of this mining disaster.