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Remembering a mine disaster

By Jim Conrad
Published On: Jun 21 2013 04:05:54 PM CDT
Updated On: Jun 21 2013 05:00:00 PM CDT

Memories remain clear 30 years after a mining disaster took seven lives.

DICKENSON COUNTY, Va. -

June 21 is a grim anniversary of an event that took place 30 years ago. A methane explosion in the McLure Number One Mine in Dickenson County, Virginia took the lives of seven miners, including Virginia's first mining fatality for a woman.

James and Linda Holbrook sit in their living room and sing an acoustic version of a recitation James wrote in the 80s remembering a mining community's worst fear: an explosion in the mine.

It's an evening that James still remembers. "I still remember it. It's a terrible thing," James recalled.

Even though he was in another section of the mine, he knew that something had happened. "The curtain was up hanging there, just a fly pad curtain and the air came up through that heading so strong it stood that curtain out and held it just a second. Then it went back the other way and held it out the other way and I could feel the pressure change in my head so I knew something was going on," he explained.

Once outside the miners didn't know what had happened, but they knew the news wouldn't be good. "We all had our doubts what had happened. The two left crew, we hadn't heard from them yet. We just about knew two left crew was the ones in trouble," he remembers.

The headlines in the Dickenson County Star said it all -- seven dead and three seriously injured.

James began writing about it while working in that same mine. "As I was going down the track to get the parts, I knew my section was broken and I had to try to hurry and get it back on the coal, back to running coal. As I would go just every little bit a verse would come to and I just stopped and wrote it down," he says as he tries to stop the tears.

He and his wife recorded his song in 1988 and re-recorded it this year as a remembrance to those who lost their lives that night, including Virginia's first female mining fatality.

It was a night that seven families and those who survived will never forget.

A coal miners' memorial to remember that disaster and a CD release of "By His Grace: The McLure Number One Disaster" was planned for the evening of June 22, 2013 at 7 p.m. at the Jettie Baker Center in Clintwood, Virginia.