RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Massey's corporate flag flew at half staff today at its headquarters in downtown Richmond. 25 are dead, 4 more still missing in a West Virginia mine.
Massey has called Richmond home for 80 years. There are offices downtown and at the Chesterfield Airport. Massey currently employs 5,400 and operates 35 underground mines. It controls 2.5 billion tons of coal here in Virginia, West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and Tennessee.
Massey touts its safety record on its website, but a search of records shows numerous mining tragedies. Since January of 2006, four people have died in accidents in Massey mines. For two of those deaths, Massey paid out $4.2 million in civil and criminal penalties; the largest financial settlement in the industry's history.
Prior to this week's explosion, 3 people had died at the Upper Big Branch Mine since 1998. Last year, Massey was fined more than $382,000 for violations at that mine.
"You get four or five violations because you have a larger area to be inspected and a lot more people involved. That doesn't mean the mine is unsafe because every violation actually means an improvement in the safety in a sense that you make that correction," said Massey Energy Company CEO Don Blankenship.
Blankenship says the upper branch mine is not one of Massey's safest, but he says company-wide, Massey's safety performance has been better than the industry average for six straight years.
"I can assure you for the 20 some years I've been in charge of Massey. It's been my foremost objective to make the mines safe. And sometimes it seems humanly impossible," said Blankenship.
The search for survivors continues tonight, but even the CEO says he's holding out little hope the missing four are still alive. He says the explosion was just too devastating.