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Editorial: WV disasters left epic legacies, push for safety

From The Dominion Post of Morgantown:

Ever get the impression that too many disasters have West Virginia’s name written on them? November disasters alone appear to have a monopoly on that score.

Some that come to mind real quick are the 1970 Marshall plane crash, the 1968 Farmington mine disaster, the 1985 Preston flooding and the assassination of JFK, whose election will forever be linked to the Mountain State.

And lest we forget, the Great Appalachian Storm of 1950 and the seemingly days-on-end snowfall from Hurricane Sandy, from Oct. 29-Nov. 8, 2012.

Though December in West Virginia is also filled with any number of past disasters of epic proportions, two stand out this year in particular and the memory of another is eternal.

That last one, of course, is the attack on Pearl Harbor, which has special significance to West Virginia in light of the sinking of a battleship named in honor of our state there.

Another is the Dec. 6, 1907, Monongah mine explosion in Marion County, often described as the “worst mining disaster in American history.”

But one disaster that stands out for several reasons in December is the Silver Bridge collapse.

For one, this disaster was not linked to mining or weather-related causes.

At about 5 p.m. Dec. 15, 1967, the bridge connecting Point Pleasant to Gallipolis, Ohio, dropped into the Ohio River.

Thirty-one of the 37 vehicles stuck on the bridge during rush-hour traffic plunged into the river, claiming the lives of 46 people.

Of course, this disaster also stands out this year since it will mark its 50th anniversary.

Still another reason we remember this disaster is it led to a national bridge inspection system. The National Bridge Inspection Standard mandates that all bridges in the United States longer than 20 feet must be inspected every two years.

Much like those mandated inspections, the aftermath of the 1968 Farmington mine disaster also led to a host of mine-safety regulations.

For now, the state Division of Highways is working with the city of Point Pleasant and Mason County officials on a ceremony Dec. 15.

Showing simple respect for those who died in this disaster and other disasters should always be the point of such functions.

But if there is anything that might console the loved ones of the dead in these tragedies, it’s that their loved ones’ legacy extends beyond memorial services.

Legislation and regulations that were the outcomes of Silver Bridge and other disasters have spared countless lives.

Indeed, the names of the victims of these tragedies are written on all our lives.

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