CHARLESTON, W. Va. – When the West Virginia Watch Center, operated by the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM), received a call on Dec. 9 that four people were missing in a shuttered coal mine, the state sprang into action.
The mine was the decommissioned Elk Run Coal Company's Rock House Powellton Mine near Clear Creek in Raleigh County, West Virginia.
The terrain near the entrances to the mine were rough and muddy after an exceptionally large amount of snowfall had fallen in the area days before. A determination was made that West Virginia National Guard (WVNG) assets – specifically Humvees – were the safest way to transport rescue crews on and off the mine site.
The deterioration of the unused mine roads warranted all safety precautions to be taken to ensure the safety of the rescuers.
The West Virginia National Guard and WVDHSEM's integration in the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) allowed for quick deployment of the necessary resources for the mine rescue workers.
On Dec. 10, a team of eight Soldiers and three Humvees from the 1st Squadron, 150th Cavalry Regiment out of Beckley, were assigned to assist the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training (MHS&T) in the search efforts, providing transportation to the rescue site.
After more than 24 hours of work to clear water and provide ventilation into the mine site, 10 additional Soldiers from the 863rd Military Police Company were assigned to augment the efforts on Dec. 12, providing additional security augmentation to the West Virginia State Police at the opposite mine entrance and liaison duties. With the addition of the Soldiers from the 863rd MP Company, the total number of support personnel from the WVNG reached 18 total.
After the rescue efforts proved successful later in the evening of Dec. 12, and the three individuals were rescued and transported to receive medical attention, the WVNG assets demobilized. (The fourth person had emerged earlier from the mine).
"The National Guard in West Virginia stands ready at all hours to aid our neighbors, no matter the situation," Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard, said. "The SEOC headquartered at the WVNG Joint Force Headquarters here in Charleston has shown that by co-locating, we are able to respond quickly and efficiently in case of an emergency. I am proud of all the Guard members who stepped up to assist our neighbors and partners."