We Americans don't see the faces of these people or hear their voices in the kitchen when we flick on the light in the morning and start the coffee. But they are there nonetheless.
When we pull some "juice" from the wires, it has been supplied, about half the time, courtesy of the coal mining communities. Whenever we scoop a teaspoon of baking powder, drive down a street, shine a flashlight, or brush our teeth, we are using one of several thousand by-products generated by the coal economy. We are all inextricably bound to these coal-mining communities and yet we all know so little about them.
The tragedies at West Virginia's Sago and Alba mines allow us to look more deeply into the rural region that has been at the heart of America's industrial power. The suffering of the men who died in the mine and the grief of their families should not be in vain.
Death is never far away in West Virginia's coal camps, and there have been other mine tragedies in rural West Virginia.
Nearly a century ago, Monongah was the site of the worst mine disaster in US history - a December 1907 explosion killed 361 miners. In 1940, a fire and explosion killed 91 miners in Bartley. In 1968, the night crew of the Consol No. 9 Mine, near Farmington, suffered a disaster similar to the one in Sago. The bodies of 59 miners were brought to the surface, but 19 remain forever entombed.
In 1971, one of the deadliest floods produced in US history, caused by negligent strip mining, occurred at southern West Virginia's Buffalo Creek Hollow. Heavy rain caused the coal slurry pond to break, and a raging torrent of water left 118 people dead and over 4,000 homeless.