04/05/2014 10:19 am ET Updated Apr 05, 2014

Deadly Upper Big Branch Disaster Not Soon Forgotten In West Virginia

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.

Upper Big Branch


Major American Mine Disasters