Mine disaster a story of private pain made public
By Randi Kaye
Editor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news. Randi Kaye explores the dangers of mining in the wake of the Sago disaster on "Hope and Heartbreak," a one-hour special anchored by Anderson Cooper, 11 p.m. ET.
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TALLMANSVILLE, West Virginia (CNN) -- In all my travels for CNN, I had never been to West Virginia. It didn't take long to realize this was not how West Virginia was supposed to look.
Covering this story was a challenge. Not only were we without cell phone service due to the mountainous terrain, but there was also the question of how far we should go to get the story, to be competitive.
This is the type of story that involves so much private pain, but it's our job to bring events which are painful to the public. I had to find the right balance between being a journalist, meeting the demands of my job and respecting the privacy of these families. It's a delicate balance, but one that I found the families appreciated we recognized.
The ultimate test of this tenuous bond came at 2 a.m. Wednesday with the news that would tear this town apart. I was listening to CNN's live programming through my earpiece, waiting to appear on camera, when I heard a woman speak to Anderson Cooper live on the air.
My jaw dropped in the darkness as I listened to her tell him what mining company officials had announced at the church: Despite early word that 12 miners had survived, only one was alive. The other 11 were dead. There had been a "miscommunication," and the mining company waited three hours to tell the families the bad news.
Before I could stop them, the words "Oh no!" came out of my mouth. A newspaper reporter next to me said "What is it?" I told him it appeared only one miner was alive. In my ear, my producer in New York, Charlie Moore, was shouting "Randi, get confirmation. Get someone at the church to tell you this is true."
I left my camera and ran to find someone. Turns out, I ran right into the mother-in-law of Randal McCloy. She told me she'd just learned her son-in-law was the only surviving miner.
From there, it got ugly.
The families left the church, yelling "liars" and "hypocrites," shaking their heads and their fists. Their anger was directed at the mining company -- and in some cases the media. One family member was so angry that he grabbed a CNN photographer by his shirt collar and threw him on the hood of a car.
Most family members avoided the media. Others shouted before our cameras and then cried. Peggy Cohen will be burying her father, Fred Ware Jr. He had been mining 40 years and always told Peggy he'd die in the mine. When I interviewed her in the backyard of her home, there was no hiding the pain. (A gallery of families reacting to the news)
Peggy was in such shock over her father's death that she had to be taken to the hospital overnight. There we were, two complete strangers -- we'd only known each other as long as it took me to persuade her to talk with me -- hugging and crying together over the loss of her dad.
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