Monday, April 05, 2010

A Tale Of Two Disasters: West Virginia Mine Explosion And Haiti

Hi everyone. No review tonight. As per my usual policy with breaking news, I'm skipping the recap because the initial information of a story is too fluid and often even inaccurate. Very sad case in point: when Anderson Cooper signed off from the show, there were seven confirmed fatalities due to the explosion at Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. As of this blogging, that number has unfortunately risen to 25, making this the worst U.S. mine disaster since 1984. At least four others are still missing, but the search is currently suspended due to underground conditions. So sad.

Like many others, as soon as I heard of this current tragedy, my mind immediately went to Sago. I'll probably never forget that night in January 2006. Though not the same caliber of tragedy as Hurricane Katrina or 9-11, it resides alongside them in my memories of unbelievable live television moments due to the way it played out. The explosion happened on January 2, 2006, and Anderson was there anchoring live that night. He remained at that live shot for a good part of the next day as well. Then came that night's show.

Back in those days, 360 was always live for two hours, so I was used to watching until midnight (EST). That night they went past that time because there was a feeling that something might happen. I actually hadn't planned on staying up. Then suddenly they were cutting back from commercial early and there was an out-of-breath man at Anderson's live shot. Choking up, the man told us that they had just learned the miners were all alive and okay.

It was an amazing moment, not only for the great news, but because that news was being broken in real time to everyone--even our anchor himself. This would not be the last time that night this would happen. At that point I wanted to stay up and watch. I don't have to tell most of you that 2005 was a truly sucktastic year. So sucktastic, in fact, that Rolling Stone deemed it "the worst year ever." That night in 2006 I stayed up because I wanted to see something good for a change. Sure, I knew the family reunions would be run the next day. But they would be taped and packaged and produced. I wanted to see the raw joy. So I waited. And waited.

Hours ticked by, but it really didn't feel that long. People were just so excited. Anderson, who hours before was showing the signs of clear exhaustion, was practically bouncing on the balls of his feet. Everyone was grinning from ear to ear waiting to see these men walk out. Eventually there was an ambulance and we were told that one of the men was unconscious (he would turn out to be the only survivor). At the time, I had a fleeting thought--a worry--that a disappointment was on the horizon. Looking back, I think everyone involved just wanted it to be true so badly that no one stopped to put all the information together.

We all know how Sago ended. In the wee hours of the morning, a resident of Sago named Lynette Roby, ran up to Anderson's live shot with her children, Kiki and Travis, and told the world that all remaining 12 men had died. To call it a sucker punch would be an understatement. I remember one writer would later say our anchor looked like he had been smacked over the head with a two-by-four. That's pretty much what if felt like watching. The community was devastated, obviously. The raw moment of joy I had been waiting for turned into a raw moment of absolute sorrow mixed with white hot anger.

Later, we would learn of miscommunications. Many papers the next day even had headlines proclaiming the miners alive. Anderson got a lot of unfair flack for what happened. As someone who has been pretty critical of him in the past, I can say he did nothing wrong. He used qualifiers for everything that was said at his live shot. His only crime was being harder working than a good many of his colleagues--the last man standing in the wee hours of the night. Sago was one of the few times I've ever sent the show feedback. I like to counteract when I know they're being slammed for something unfairly.

Unfortunately, once the drama of Sago was over, 360 spent as much time updating us on the eating habits of the survivor (seriously) than they did investigating the mine company's safety record. I hope they do better for this current disaster. Upper Big Branch mine is owned by Massey Energy Company and they're already looking pretty shady. Tonight 360 started to delve into their safety violations and I hope this continues.

The rest of tonight's show consisted of Tiger Woods coverage and a live interview with Sean Penn from Haiti. The former just made me laugh. It's like playing a game of "which of these things is not like the other." Oh, 360. As for Haiti, the major fear is still the rains and how ill prepared the country seems to be. Teams Gupta and Cooper were set to follow up in the country Tuesday. With this mining disaster things seem to have changed. At this time, I know that Sanjay's producer is already on the ground, but the good doctor has been diverted to West Virginia. I've heard Gary Tuchman is on his way to the mine too. Whether he'll end up there for sure, I couldn't tell you. As for Anderson, who the hell knows. He'll pop up somewhere. My thoughts and prayers go out to the families in West Virginia.

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