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Residents fight despair with prayer, hospitality

WHITESVILLE, W.Va. -- Hundreds of people showed up Wednesday to form a circle at the baseball field outside Whitesville Elementary School, and marched through town to honor the 25 fallen miners at the Upper Big Branch Mine and pray for four others who are missing.

Mourners sang "Take Me Home, Country Roads," and "Amazing Grace."

Doug Dotson of Comfort showed up to the candlelight vigil to "give respect to the miners."

"It lifted 'em up here because there was a lot of people down, especially ones that had family members in the mine," he said.

Nancy Platt, owner of Nuttin Fancy restaurant in Whitesville, set out candles in brown paper bags outside her downtown eatery. Platt's vascular disease makes it difficult for her to march, so she lit up the storefront instead. 

To Platt, the throngs of people who showed up spoke to her about how people in the area have united.

"We're a strong community and we love each other," she said. "There were a lot of miners who were marching and there were a lot of miners' wives who were marching." 

Traveling down W.Va. 3 earlier Wednesday, church signs urged drivers to "Pray for our Missing Miners and Families." A similar makeshift sign appeared on pink paper on the back of an old red van that sits along the roadway.

Some national media members gathered at Marsh Fork Elementary seemed pleasantly surprised at the hospitality of local volunteers, who are feeding sandwiches, water, soft drinks, desserts and other food to the media.

"That's what the people of West Virginia do," said Dennis Dye, a volunteer and physical education teacher at Marsh Fork Elementary. "When there's a need, the people of West Virginia want to step up and do it.

"They can cook, they can bake, they can pray," Dye said. "That's what we know how to do. Most of our churches have just opened up their doors -- 24 hours a day."

Dye worked at least a 10-hour shift on Wednesday, which is spring break for students and teachers in Marsh Fork.

"You know how the communities are here," said Paul Blizard, pastor of Memorial Baptist Church in Beckley. "We're all touched by this."       

He decided to come to Marsh Fork Elementary to pray for Gov. Joe Manchin, state and federal mine safety officials and mine rescue workers, who are working with Massey Energy officials to try to search for the four remaining miners.

Blizard had already prepared a sermon to his parishioners that ties in with the Oscars. This weekend's theme will use the title of the Academy Award winner based in the Iraq war zone, "The Hurt Locker."

The idea is to ask the question: "Where is God when it hurts?"

"That's the mystery sometimes people deal with: Why am I hurting?" he said.

Before Monday's explosion, Blizard thought he had his sermon prepared, but now he knows he'll need to draft another outline.   

Reach Davin White at davinwhite@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1254.


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