In a sleepy little town on the banks of America’s oldest river lies a shocking secret that has been covered up for eighty years. The truth of the Hawks Nest Tunnel comes to light in this bold investigative documentary – a cry for justice in our current age, as industry and government exploit our environment and our human resources.
The Hawks Nest Tunnel: A Documentary, uses astonishing archival footage to expose this ill-fated tale, following victims such as the Jones family. The father Charlie Jones and his three sons Cecil, Owen and Shirley Jones all died on the job. Charlie, Cecil and Owen left behind wives and families in poverty. Charlie Jones, gasping for breath in the footage tells that he has silicosis. Cecil’s widow Doreen and two children Cecil Jr. and Patricia explain that the money that the company gave the family as compensation “barely paid for any of the medical expenses and would not provide (the children) with enough food to survive.” The youngest brother, Shirley, died at age eighteen and left behind a mother who he asked to “find out what killed” him. Shirley Jones was the first documented autopsy. When the doctor removed Shirley’s lungs, he referred to them as “solid glass” and determined that Shirley, who had only worked in the tunnel for a few weeks had developed “acute silicosis that should have taken thirty years to advance to this stage.”
The Hawks Nest Tunnel is of great socio-political importance today and digs deeply into the largely untold story of government and big business. It uncovers the voices and faces of West Virginians who were impacted by our nation’s largest industrial tragedy. This timely story honors the memory of those who lost their lives at work and tells a critically important moral tale of greed, corruption and big business so representative of our current times of economic hardship and government bailouts for corporations.
History continues to repeat itself. American industry and government have not learned from the Hawks Nest tunnel tragedy.
April 5, 2010 the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster occurred killing twenty nine miners at the Massey Energy mine site in West Virgina in an explosion that investigators suspect began with methane, then gorged on coal dust as it turned 90-degree corners, rounded a 1,000-foot-wide block of coal and built enough force to kill men more than a mile away. In the previous month, the mine had been sited for 57 safety infractions, and the day before the explosion had received two citations. In the last five years the mine had been cited for 1,342 safety violations, as well as fined for “serious” unrepentant violations for lacking ventilation and proper equipment plans as well as failing to utilize its safety plan properly. The page in the laborers logbook that lists corrective actions taken for these issues is blank. Prior to The Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, Massey Energy paid what was then the largest financial settlement in the history of the coal industry for the 2006 fire at the Aracoma mine, also in West Virginia. The fire trapped 12 miners. Two suffocated as they looked for a way to escape. Aracoma later admitted in a plea agreement that two permanent ventilation controls had been removed in 2005 and not replaced. Massey Energy is the nation’s sixth largest mining company by production, taking in $24 million in net income in the fourth quarter of 2009.
The Hawks Nest Tunnel serves to remind people of these horrific crimes against humanity, where profit is put before
the value of human life.
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