By JOE MANCHIN

The last week or so has been an incredibly trying time for West Virginia. The eyes of the nation have been on us and, through incredible tragedy, we have been strong. I've never felt so proud to be a West Virginian.

The mine tragedy that occurred at Performance Coal's Upper Big Branch Mine-South in Southern West Virginia affected citizens across our state, the nation and even the world. The Montcoal community and the loved ones of the miners who were killed in the explosion have shown how resilient West Virginians are, and how we unite as a family in trying times.

I am truly grateful for the outpouring of support that we've received, not just from fellow West Virginians, but from businesses, organizations and individuals across the country. These families are strong, but will continue to need your thoughts and prayers in the difficult days ahead.

We held a brief memorial ceremony one week after the blast that took the lives of 29 brave miners –- it was one of the most solemn yet comforting moments of my career as governor. I want to thank everyone for honoring the memory of these brave individuals. Coal miners are the heart and soul of West Virginia, and they deserve our sincerest thanks.

I also want to let everyone in West Virginia know that I am determined to find out what led up to this devastating event and to make sure that it does not happen again. I have appointed a proven independent investigator who will assemble the facts and make recommendations we can use to make our mines safer. We owe it to our lost miners and their families, and to every miner working today.

Sadly, I've said this before following the Sago and Aracoma mine accidents. I promise that they will not have died in vain. To all the families and friends of those we lost on April 5 –- I pledge the same. That we will make changes that better protect our miners and each day as they go underground, they will be able to reflect on the changes that were made because of their brothers that were lost at Upper Big Branch.

In closing, I'd like to share a portion from an online commentary posted by Peter Prengaman, multimedia editor for The Associated Press in Atlanta. He spoke to Marsh Fork Elementary School Principal Shelly Prince, whom he asked how West Virginians could be so giving to the crowd of reporters who converged on the mining community. Prince said it gave people a chance to show the world what West Virginians are "really like." She was paraphrased saying, "Often on TV, we have not always been portrayed in such a good manner ... But we are just ordinary people who live ordinary lives."

Prengaman wrote, "I have to disagree. These people are extraordinary."

Manchin is West Virginia's governor.

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