War Torn Area

War, WV, is the southern-most city in the state. It is the home of Big Creek High School, the same school attended by Homer Hickam, whose autobiography Rocket Boys was made into the movie October Sky.

The city of War is located in McDowell County. In 1950, McDowell County had a population of 100,000. Today, its population is barely 23,000. Even worse, it is one of the most impoverished counties in the United States. In one of my treks through the county, I ran into a missionary group from Canada who had come to distribute shoes and school supplies!

Iaeger, a McDowell County ghost town, at noon on a Saturday

Iaeger, a McDowell County ghost town, at noon on a Saturday

McDowell County is a case study for what Coal will do to a community. Up until the 1980s, more coal was mined in McDowell County than any where else in the world. Today the county has all but been abandoned. Even legendary Big Creek High School will be closing its doors forever at the end of the year. King Coal has sucked out the wealth and has left a wasteland of environmental degradation and poverty in its wake.

There is still alot of coal coming out of McDowell County. In the past communities mined coal in local hollows and loaded it directly onto rail cars or barges. Today, coal is extracted from dynamited mountains and transferred on dangerously overloaded coal trucks by subcontracted non-resident labor across windy roads to processing plants where 100 chemicals are used to segregate SOME of the heavy metals from the coal and the resulting toxic slurry is pumped behind earthen dams, one of which is larger than the Hoover dam, which hold billions of gallons of waste, which looms ominously above the few people remaining in the “bottoms,” many of whom sleep in shoes during heavy rains.

What follows is a letter to the editor published in the Charleston Gazette from a resident of War, West Virginia.

Why is it that in 1950 the mountains of central Appalachia were touted as the billion-dollar coalfields, and today missionaries from across the nation bring food to poor people in these billion-dollar coalfields, while even more coal is being mined?

Have no doubt; the fossil-fuel industry is about easy bucks for corporations with the least lasting return to communities and families. Greed, in short, is the only real energy concerns the owners are thinking about – and at any cost.

Schools, families and communities in the regions where the most coal is being taken are in true socio-cultural devolution, in a tragic sense. Not only carbon caps but also accountability that used to exist in coal country are a must! And now!

Albert Justice


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