Gleision one year on: A few dark September days none of us will ever forget
A year ago this weekend, a tragedy began to unfold in a small corner of the Swansea Valley, news of which was soon to reach across the world. Post reporter GERAINT THOMAS looks back on the Gleision colliery disaster in which David Powell, 50, Charles Breslin, 62, Philip Hill, 44, and Garry Jenkins, 39, lost their lives.
THEY are a few September days that four families, the valley communities they call home, and many people beyond will never forget.
But the events that took place also showed that compassion and caring are still very much alive in the Swansea Valley.
When seven miners arrived for work at Gleision Colliery, on the morning of Thursday, September 15, last year, they could not possibly have known that within a couple of hours a secluded spot on a picturesque hillside above Pontardawe, would soon have the eyes of the world turned upon it.
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As the men set to work, doing a job that had once shaped the very communities of which they were such a proud part, the earth would offer up a sombre reminder of its sometimes harsh and cruel nature.
For whatever reason, a deluge of water, 90 metres underground, swamped the cramped passages of the drift mine, scattering those below, while turning the world of their families and friends above upside down.
Miraculously, three of the men managed to escape and raise the alarm.
Soon after rescuers from across the country gathered to answer the call and, without a second thought, set off to help those with whom many shared an unspoken bond that can only be forged by knowing what it is like to work and sweat in dangerous conditions, far from the reach of the sun.
These men faced some of the most difficult and dangerous conditions possible during their search and rescue attempt, yet not once did they stray from their task, not once did they question their resolve, and, even when hope began to fail, not once did they let up in their efforts to bring those four home.
A small tree shaded crossroads, surrounded by once lonely fields, towards the entrance of the colliery, near to Cilybebyll church, became the most unlikely base for the UK's media. From here regular updates were broadcast around the globe as the race to free the trapped miners attracted the thoughts and prayers of everyone.
Two miles down the road, in the hitherto unremarkable Rhos Community Centre, the families and friends gathered to find strength and support in each other.
And while they wrestled with their unimaginable anguish those outside set about displaying their solidarity. Well-wishers gathered outside, food was sent inside — including a tray of cupcakes that one woman made because she wanted to show the families she was thinking of them, and boxes of toys were delivered, making those watching realise that the unfolding events would touch generations.
Sadly, as time slipped away, hope began to fade with it — but not the very many messages of support that found their way to that small brick hall, first from the surrounding homes, then neighbouring villages until they became a cwtch of compassion from across the globe.
As the Friday unfolded, each media briefing brought more of the worst possible news, while those outside the community centre fell quiet as, one by one, tearful families returned home to their private grief.
Then, just after 6pm, all was lost.