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Preparing to Lay the Miners to Rest

Crowds are expected at funerals for the 12 West Virginians. The survivor remains in a coma.

January 07, 2006|P.J. Huffstutter | Times Staff Writer

BUCKHANNON, W.Va. — As the sole survivor of the West Virginia mine explosion remained in a medically induced coma Friday, local residents prepared themselves for tearful memorial services for the dozen victims and a long weekend filled with mournful goodbyes.

The first of the funeral viewings are scheduled to begin this evening, with a private gathering for Jesse L. Jones, 44, of Pickens, W.Va.; and Jerry Groves, 56, of Cleveland, W.Va.

The first funeral services for the victims are to be held Sunday, and others are expected to follow in the coming week.

Officials with area funeral homes have been meeting with religious leaders in recent days to schedule all the services and find locations large enough to accommodate the crowds that are expected.

"None of us in the region have ever had to handle so many funerals at one time," said Jon Wright, director of the Wright Funeral Home in Philippi, W.Va., which is handling the services for miner Jack Weaver, 52.

"The loss of these men has touched everyone in the region, and based off the number of calls we're getting, there are many, many people out there who want to come pay their respects," Wright said.

What caused Monday morning's blast at the Sago Mine, which claimed one life immediately, remains unknown.

A dozen men who survived the blast were unable to escape, and fled farther into the mine. As the hours passed and their oxygen supply dwindled, some of the miners scrawled notes for their loved ones to say they were not in pain and were simply going to sleep.

The men were trapped underground, more than two miles from the mine entrance, for 41 hours. When rescuers reached them, only one was alive.

In the emotional days since the victims' bodies were brought out, family members have pleaded for answers from political leaders and company executives, to find out why they had been told initially that the miners had survived.

Although federal and state officials have launched a joint investigation into the Sago disaster, doctors at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh are trying to determine the extent of brain damage suffered by survivor Randal McCloy Jr.

McCloy, 26, has been kept in a drug-induced coma to let his brain rest, Dr. James Valeriano said at a news conference Friday morning.

McCloy has also received two rounds of treatment with a hyperbaric oxygen machine, to help his brain and vital organs recover from his exposure to carbon monoxide.

Tests have shown that his exposure created pinpoint-sized hemorrhages -- which Valeriano said were not cause for great concern -- and injury to the part of the brain that controls sensation and vision. But how significant such injury will be in the long term is still unknown.

"Right now, there's no way to know," Valeriano said. "The best thing for him is that he is so young."

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