July 27, 2008

Ribbon-Cutting Held for Quecreek Center

By Patrick Buchnowski, Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.

Jul. 27--SIPESVILLE -- Dennis Hall spent more than three perilous days trapped in the murky depths of Quecreek Mine in July 2002.

Trapped by rising floodwaters with eight other miners, Hall wasn't sure if he would survive.

"I spent 77 hours not knowing if we would get out," he said.

The rescue of the "Quecreek 9" was a drama played out on television screens around the world and in a television movie.

On Saturday, Hall was part of a ribbon-cutting of the Quecreek Mine Rescue Foundation visitors center, which will house artifacts from what many have called the miracle rescue.

Hall, the bespectacled, soft-spoken miner No. 7, affectionately known as "Harpo," is keenly aware of his place in history. He is credited with placing a frantic phone call to the surface warning of the 60 million gallons of rushing water, saving the lives of nine other miners.

"A little girl came up to me in church one day and said 'you saved my daddy's life,' " Hall, 54, said. "I just broke down."

About 70 people turned out for the ribbon-cutting as part of the sixth anniversary of the rescue.

About 10,000 people visit the site each year.

The day included a flag-raising ceremony and patriotic songs by Linda Biery and daughter Kendra Biery. The ceremony was to include a groundbreaking but workers from an Amish community in Ohio got an early start laying Styrofoam blocks that will be filled with concrete.

"We're a little further along than that," said Bill Arnold, president of the foundation and owner of the farm where the rescue took place. "It's an unprecedented kind of day."

To date, the foundation has raised about $92,000 toward the project, he said.

"Our goal is to have it completed this winter for a grand opening on the next anniversary," Arnold said.

When completed, the $200,000 building will tell the story of how rescue crews pulled the weary miners to safety from 240 feet underground.

The visitors center will be housed in a 2,400-square-foot building overlooking the rescue site at the 212-year-old Dormel Farms.

The building will incorporate parts of the Sipesville fire hall, where mine families waited for news during the rescue. Several doors and outside columns and oak flooring were salvaged before the 125-year-old structure was torn down.

The 9-foot-tall 650-pound yellow steel rescue capsule that pulled the black-faced minors to safety is part of the display, along with the drill bit broken trying to reach them and hundreds of other pieces tied to the historic event.

"Practically a day doesn't go by when I don't feel this was a miracle," former DEP Secretary David Hess said.

"Obviously, we had the right people in the right place. But it was still very much a miracle."

The Quecreek rescue that brought changes for Pennsylvania's more than 6,000 coal miners includes the mine safety and health legislation signed into law this month, state Rep. Bob Bastian R-Somerset, said.

"This whole process has resulted in some good legislation," he said.

Hall never returned to mining.

"I promised myself I would never put my family through that again," he said.

Looking out over the proceedings, he was pleased the story of the Quecreek rescue is being retold.

"It's history," Hall said. "It's important to preserve what happened here."


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