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Storm Hurts Black Lung Victims

January 30, 1998

MABSCOTT, W.Va. (AP) _ With the power out and parts of the state still paralyzed by snow, Darren Parker’s welding supplies have become critically important to retired coal miners desperate for bottled oxygen.

Many of West Virginia’s 35,000 retired coal miners suffer respiratory illnesses, including black lung disease, and rely on an electrical device that pulls oxygen from the atmosphere.

``But with the power out, those concentrators don’t work,″ Parker said. ``They have to rely on oxygen in a bottle.″

On Thursday, he filled 30 large high-pressure oxygen cylinders for the National Guard to deliver to patients at emergency shelters.

The storm dropped up to 4 feet of snow across West Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina, and is blamed for at least nine deaths since snow began falling on Tuesday.

About 25,000-30,000 people were still without power in eastern Tennessee, 47,000 in West Virginia and 44,000 in western North Carolina. Schools in many mountain towns are closed.

In the tiny town of Beaver, in southern West Virginia, Philip Massey hiked through waist-deep snow to dig a cellular telephone out of his truck. He had to call for help for his 71-year-old mother, Marie Massey, who wears a pacemaker and was unable to make it through the snow.

The snow was too deep even for a National Guard Humvee, which was briefly stuck until a neighbor with an end-loader dug it out.

Nearby, Juanita and Lee Briggs had neither electricity nor telephones, and worried family members in Minnesota called the volunteer fire department for help.

Briggs, who suffers from emphysema and black lung disease, was dependent on bottled oxygen. National Guardsmen took his spare bottle for refilling, then returned it later in the day.

``Without the power, it was getting pretty scary,″ Briggs said.

The National Guard and volunteer firefighters were scrambling to deliver oxygen bottles and other medical services to residents throughout the area.

``We’re getting people to (kidney) dialysis that they needed two days ago,″ said Lt. Col. Gary Blackhurst.

At the National Guard Armory in Johnson City, Tenn., scores of people were holed up for the night. Lucille Vance passed the time working on a crossword puzzle with her 10-year-old granddaughter.

``We’ll make the best of it because we’re warm,″ she said.

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