CLEAR CREEK, W.Va. — Their faces covered in black soot, three adults safely rescued after several days in an abandoned West Virginia coal mine were mobbed by loved ones in a teary reunion, then they thanked the crews that got them out.
The three walked out of an ambulance at a fire hall in Whitesville to the screams of relatives for a brief reunion Wednesday night before being taken to a hospital.
Cody Beverly told news outlets the four-day experience inside Elk Run Coal’s Rock House Powellton mine near Clear Creek “was terrible.”
“I’m with my family now. I’m fine,” he said.
Beverly later told NBC News “this is the biggest lesson I’ve ever learned in my life. This is a life-changing experience for me.”
Randall Williams, whose daughter, Kayla Williams, was among the rescued, said she had gone into the mine in search of copper.
People in the region do “whatever they can do to make money if they ain’t got a job,” Randall Williams told CBS News .
Reports of people entering abandoned mines in search of copper to sell are not uncommon.
Two weeks ago, crews abandoned their search at another mine for a missing man suspected of stealing copper. Two other men who were arrested indicated the third man had gone inside a mine, but the search was called off after a search team encountered unsafe conditions.
Abandoned coal mines contain toxic levels of gas, and roof falls, flooding and other dangers may exist. The latest search effort had prompted Gov. Jim Justice to issue a plea for people to stay away from abandoned mines.
The Raleigh County Sheriff’s Office had identified those rescued as Beverly, 21, of Dorothy; Kayla Williams, 25, of Artie; and Erica Treadway, 31, of Pax. They had been missing since Saturday. A fourth person, Eddie Williams, 43, of Artie, walked out of the mine Monday. An abandoned ATV the four were believed to be riding was found near the mine’s entrance.
Williams’ aunt, Sandra Scarbro of Clear Creek, told The Register-Herald of Beckley, “We got our Christmas miracle. All we really know is she’s alive, and we’re so thankful that she’s out and that they’re all out. We appreciate everybody in the community, the governor and rescuers, everything everybody has done.”
Crews had used fans to move fresh air into the mine while pumps cleared some standing water inside the mine but the water levels remained too high and hampered search efforts.
“My shoes were soaked, and I couldn’t get my feet warm,” Treadway said as she was being placed on an ambulance stretcher.
According to the state mine safety office, coal has not been mined at the underground location for two years.