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Somerset County looked on, hoping for the best

Sunday, July 28, 2002

By Tom Gibb, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

QUECREEK, Pa. -- He was tired, real tired, Bob Taylor allowed as he stood outside his pizza shop in the tiny town of Ferrelton.

His wife had just delivered a baby boy. Taylor had been up all night.

Maybe, on another day, Taylor would have been celebrating life by lettering the sign outside his place with something like "It's a boy!"

But not on this day. The side read simply, "Pray for the miners and their families."

Not even 11 months after the crash of United Flight 93 on Sept. 11, Somerset County again was dealing with tribulation on a grand scale -- for some, an affliction on a county that had suffered enough; for others, suffering that goes with the dangerous business of coal mining.

"It's sad, but it's something that happens where you have mines," Taylor said before the news came late last night that nine miners trapped in the nearby Quecreek Mine had been found, alive and reasonably well.

"My step-dad was in the mines for 25 years, and he carried his best friend out."

"There are people saying it's too much, why's it happening here again?" said Geneanne Muro, a clerk at Ida's, a convenience store and sandwich shop in tiny Shanksville.

Indeed, it drew enough attention that families of several Flight 93 victims sent the miners' families messages of support.

"During our time of tragedy," the Flight 93 families said in an e-mail to the miners' families yesterday, "you extended yourselves to us and tirelessly continue to do so. We consider you our family and we sincerely hope and pray that the recovery effort will be successful in bringing your loved ones home."

At Somerset County Historical and Genealogical Society offices, curator Barbara Black routinely stores away a growing collection of remembrances left by people who come to the interim Flight 93 memorial near Shanksville to pay tribute to people who died on the airliner.

"There have been some people who say, 'Oh, my goodness, another tragedy -- so soon," Black said. "I'm from Shanksville, and the fire company there is ready to help out, ready to go again. But you kind of sense, 'Oh my goodness, so soon."

"I've heard a lot of, 'This is enough, I don't want to hear any more tragedy,' " said Rick King, assistant chief of Shanksville Fire Department.

This time, too, the angst was different, more personal, involving people -- dads, brothers, husbands -- whom a lot of people knew and not airline passengers they came to know only posthumously.

"That's something hitting close to home," King said.

But for Kathy Unger, community response coordinator for the Bedford County-Somerset County Mental Health-Mental Retardation program, there was no sense that her counselors, ministering to families of the trapped miners, were suffering tribulation overload.

This was a different circumstance, a different part of the county, she said.

"I don't feel it personally," she said.

"We wouldn't wish this luck on any of our neighbors," county Commissioner Brad Cober said. "But we're a very strong community. We can deal with anything."

Cober has people to back that up.

A year ago, county Coroner Wallace Miller had never dealt with a case that involved more than two dead. On the morning of Sept. 11, he had one airliner down and 44 dead.

Now, Miller -- an ever-calm master of the low-key and understatement -- said he was prepared to handle more tragedy if the worst-case scenario unfolds at Quecreek.

This is coal country, he said of this region tattooed with mines.

"Anybody who lives in this area knows we have coal fatalities," he said.

And he can handle more tragedy if he has to, Miller said.

"That," he said, "is what I do."

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