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Deadly Upper Big Branch Disaster Not Soon Forgotten In West Virginia

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April 5, 2014 marks the fourth anniversary of an explosion at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine in Montcoal, W.Va. 29 miners were killed in the explosion, which was the deadliest U.S. coal mine disaster since 1970.

The mine was permanently sealed in 2012, but the emotional wounds wrought by the disaster haven't healed for many in West Virginia. A planned memorial gathering in Charleston, W.Va. on April 2 became a protest against the former Massey CEO Don Blankenship and a new documentary film he funded.

"Upper Big Branch: Never Again" was released less than a week before the UBB anniversary to a largely negative reception. In the film, Blankenship blames regulators for the disaster, despite an independent investigation that laid the blame squarely on Massey's management.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D), who appeared in the film, said he was "lied to" about the "propaganda" documentary. "Had I known the film was in any way associated with Don Blankenship, I would have never agreed to the interview," he said in a statement.

“I believe that Don has blood on his hands. And I believe that justice will be done," Manchin told ABC News this week. Four other Massey executives have been prosecuted in response to the disaster, and impacted West Virginians are urging federal officials to charge Blankenship as well.

“What we have seen is a conspiracy to violate mine safety and health laws,” U.S. Attorney R. Booth Goodwin II told ABC News this week. “And that conspiracy was very pervasive.”

In response to the disaster, the federal government approved new mine safety rules in early 2013. Aimed at preventing similar disasters, the new regulations put more responsibility on mining companies to find and fix problems and allow the Mine Safety and Health Administration to designate companies as frequent violators without warning. "This rule is long overdue, and it will, over the long term, serve to make mines safer for those who choose to be miners in this country," Mine Safety and Health Administration director Joe Main told the Associated Press at the time.

Check out the images below for a glimpse at the memorials and outpouring of community support that followed the tragic disaster.

  • AP
    In a Monday, April 5, 2010 file photo, emergency vehicles leave the entrance to Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Coal Mine in Montcoal, W.Va. after an explosion at the underground coal mine. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner, File)
  • Getty Images
    A truck drives down the road near the Upper Big Branch Mine on April 6, 2010 in Montcoal, West Virginia. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
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    Thomas Jones, a local coal miner, participates in a candlelight vigil in Whitesville, West Virginia on April 7, 2010. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB
  • AP
    Gov. Joe Manchin, left, gives a state certificate to the family of deceased coal miner Josh Napper on Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at a candlelight vigil in Cabin Creek, W.Va. Seated is his mother, Pam Napper with his daughter Jenna Leigh Napper, 20 months, his father Scott Napper and the mother of his child, Jennifer Ziegler, in red. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)
  • Getty Images
    Terry Bailey of Naoma, W.Va., a coal miner at Progress Coal, sets up a memorial on April 7, 2010 for the miners that were killed in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB
  • Getty Images
    Thomas Jones (L), a local coal miner, participates in a candlelight vigil in Whitesville, West Virginia on April 7, 2010. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB
  • Getty Images
    Members of the local community participate in a candlelight vigil in Whitesville, West Virginia on April 7, 2010. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB
  • Getty Images
    Kevin Stricklin (R), an administrator with the Mine Safety and Health Administration speaks during a press conference near the Upper Big Branch coal mine in Montcoal, West Virginia on April 8, 2010, three days after the explosion. PHOTO / Saul LOEB
  • Getty Images
    Brian Lemon (L), a Massey Energy miner at the Blackstone Mine, talks with other miners near the Upper Big Branch Mine on April 8, 2010 in Montcoal, West Virginia. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
  • Getty Images
    Supporters of mine workers show their support at the entrance of the Upper Big Branch Coal Mine on April 9, 2010 in Montcoal, West Virginia. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
  • AP
    Brianna Bailey, 14, holds a sign showing her support for coal miners near the entrance of the Upper Big Branch Mine, Friday, April 9, 2010, in Montcoal, W. Va. (AP Photo/The Register-Herald, Rick Barbero)
  • Getty Images
    Supporters of mine workers show their support at the entrance of the Upper Big Branch Coal Mine on April 9, 2010 in Montcoal, West Virginia. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
  • Getty Images
    Mine workers stand at the entrance of the Upper Big Branch Coal Mine on April 9, 2010 in Montcoal, West Virginia. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
  • Getty Images
    Jennie Bennett helps put together a small memorial on April 10, 2010 in Whitesville, West Virginia to honor the 29 miners killed at the Upper Big Branch mine (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
  • Getty Images
    Community members gather for a memorial service for the deceased coal miners at the Capital building on April 11, 2010 in Charleston, West Virginia. (Photo by Kayana Szymczak/Getty Images)
  • AP
    Chunks of coal bearing the names of the miners who died in the explosion at Massey Energy Co.'s Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W. Va. appear in a makeshift memorial in Whitesville, W.Va. on Tuesday, April 13, 2010. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)
  • AP
    Lights on helmets are turned on during a memorial service for the miners killed in the Upper Big Branch Mine, in Beckley, W.Va., Sunday, April 25, 2010. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
  • AP
    President Barack Obama, right, reaches to shake hands with a relative at a memorial service for the miners killed in the Upper Big Branch Mine, in Beckley, W.Va., Sunday, April 25, 2010. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
  • AP
    Family and friends view the 48-foot-long granite Upper Big Branch Miners monument, Friday, July 27, 2012 in Whitesville, W.Va. (AP Photo/The Register-Herald, Rick Barbero)
  • AP
    Angela Bell, of Beckley, W.Va., wife of mining victim Christopher Bell Sr., left, Kristal Cook, sister, and her son Andrew Cook, nephew, touch the 48-foot-long granite monument, Friday, July 27, 2012 in Whitesville, W.Va, (AP Photo/The Register-Herald, Rick Barbero)
  • AP
    Sen. Joe Manchin looks over the 48-foot-long granite monument of the Upper Big Branch Miners, Friday, July 27, 2012 in Whitesville, W.Va. (AP Photo/The Register-Herald, Rick Barbero)

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