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Behind the scenes: Amazing grace in Appalachia

By Samira J. Simone, CNN
The bravery of miners, even after a disaster, left an impression on CNN reporter Samira J. Simone.
The bravery of miners, even after a disaster, left an impression on CNN reporter Samira J. Simone.
  • CNN's Samira J. Simone reflects on the toughness and hospitality of mining families
  • Simone covered a mining disaster in 2006, and reported this week from West Virginia
  • Not much has changed; the people of Appalachia are as kind as they are tough, she writes

Naoma, West Virginia (CNN) -- Staking out for news at the site of the mine explosion here, I remembered what I miss most about Appalachia -- the people.

Their stories are what drew me up here in 2006 as a correspondent for the Associated Press. Their hardships, struggles, passions, faith and quirks shaped hard-hitting stories about a region that few give much thought to these days.

I covered a mine disaster back then, too -- the explosion at Kentucky Darby Mine No. 1 that killed five coal miners -- and found myself marveling at the strength of the families and the community. And, despite their pain, they were hospitable, allowing a green reporter without a signal to use their living room phone, rest on their front steps and ask a few questions about their fears and worries.

I left after more than two years of sharing their stories, and hoped to return someday to catch up with my mountain neighbors and the families who allowed me to walk into their homes and share their lives with the world.

Instead, I returned for tragedy.

Not much has changed this time around as I help cover the latest disaster for CNN -- this time four miners unaccounted for and at least 25 dead.

I'm still amazed by the teachers who have allowed us reporters to use their classrooms as impromptu work areas, the nearby residents who insist on making sure we eat during the long days, the miners who bravely re-enter the mines just a day after losing some of their closest friends, and the victims' families, who remain patient as they wait for news.

I don't know how they do it, how they stay so composed, so strong in the face of such a horrific disaster felt miles away. And through it all, they accept our presence with a dignified grace. I can't imagine them handling it any other way.