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Community mourns mining deaths during vigil

By Samira J. Simone, CNN
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'We're doing everything in our power'
  • West Virginia residents draw strength from each other in wake of tragedy
  • Twenty-five people killed in West Virginia mine explosion; four remain unaccounted
  • Company that owns mine has racked up hundreds of violations in 2010

Whitesville, West Virginia (CNN) -- They filed along a single sidewalk of this tiny corner of coal country, mourning the community's losses while trying to keep a brave front of hope.

They wore coal mining jackets, some borrowed, striped with safety tape and patched with name tags. The young ones looked at their dripping candles in wonderment as their parents and grandparents wiped away tears and held hands.

They came from around the corner and as far as two counties away. But everybody knows everybody around here, and they're all they've got.

Just over five miles east of Whitesville, they lost 25 of their friends, co-workers, cousins, uncles less than three days ago in a massive explosion at one of the area's largest underground mines. They're bracing to hear if they have lost four more.

"You may not know somebody in there, but you know somebody who does," says Tanya Tuck of nearby Clear Fork. "When something like this happens, it's not just the families of the victims -- everybody is affected."

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Tuck attended Wednesday night's candlelight vigil, gaining strength outside Whitesville Elementary. As she clutched her candle, she explained that one of her relatives -- a 33-year-old father of two she declined to name -- is likely among the four missing at Massey Energy Company's Upper Big Branch Mine.

And while she's drawing on the support of her tight-knit community -- "we love each other and we hate each other," she says -- Tuck is frustrated about not knowing the fate of her loved one.

Her friend April Williams put it this way: "When you live in a small community, you have rumors. One minute, he could be pronounced (dead) and another he's still around."

But, despite enduring the hours of simply not knowing, hours spent jumping every time the phone rings, these women weren't ready to place blame on Massey or anything else.

The coal giant has racked up hundreds of violations this year alone, including 100 at the Upper Big Branch mine.

"There'll be a time when we'll know what happened -- right now isn't the time to bash Massey," Williams said.

A mother to eight foster children, Williams said her husband's job as a security officer at the mine makes it possible to take care of her kids.

However, it doesn't make getting through the tragedy any easier. So they wiped their tears, held up their signs and carried the flickering flames into the quiet mountain darkness.