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Bureaucratic bungling and denial left Centralia PA a town divided.

  • Dec 5, 2008
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Over the years I have read any number of books chronicling disasters both natural and man-made.  A common thread in just about all of these books was how the communities involved pulled together and somehow got through it all.  There was however a very different dynamic in play in Centralia, PA.  In 1962 a fire was accidentally ignited in an abandoned mine that was now being utiilzed as the town dump.  No one realized it at the time but this unfortunate miscue would set in motion a chain of events that would affect virtually every citizen in Centralia.  "The Day The Earth Caved In: An American Mining Tragedy" is Joan Quigley's heartbreaking account of the events in Centralia over the ensuing quarter century.  Due to mismanagement by various government agencies and inertia by the residents of the town the fire would continue to burn and expand. As the situation became more desperate the people of Centralia would be forced to choose sides.  There were those who favored proposals to simply give up and relocate the town while others were bound and determined to stay put and save the town.  The dispute pitted neighbor vs. neighbor and families were often divided on the issue.  The bitter fight would go on for years and for much of that time the town was about evenly split as to how to ultimately resolve this dilemma.

I simply cannot imagine how any of the people of Centralia could deal with the awful hand that had been dealt them.  In 1981 a youngster name Todd Domboski was playing in his grandmothers yard and was simply swallowed up by the earth beneath him.  Had it not been for the quick thinking of his 15 year old cousin who happened to be working in another part of the yard Todd surely would have disappeared into the boiling abyss and burned to death.  As time went on more and more of Centralia's citizens were forced to deal with the reality that toxic fumes were sucking up oxygen in their homes.  It certainly was a dangerous situation that some residents simply chose to ignore.  For this book, Joan Quigley conducted extensive interviews with many of the towns residents. You will meet those who were adament about staying put like Helen Womer and Mary Lou Gaughan.  Others like Dave Lamb and Tom Larkin simply came to the conclusion that remaining in Centralia was no longer worth the risk.  You will also be introduced to a number of the government officials who became involved with the drama at Centralia. And you will come to understand just how expensive a proposition it would be to put out this fire once and for all.

Joan Quigley certainly had an abiding interest in this story.  After all, her grandfather was once a coal miner in this area.  "The Day The Earth Caved In" held my interest from cover to cover.  As I indicated earlier what made this book fascinating was that the dynamics at play here were quite different from most of the disaster books I had read previously.  An interesting and informative book.   Recommended.

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Paul Tognetti ()
Ranked #2
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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About this book



The Day the Earth Caved In is an unprecedented and riveting account of the nation's worst mine fire, beginning on Valentine's Day, 1981, when twelve-year-old Todd Domboski plunged through the earth in his grandmother's backyard in Centralia, Pennsylvania. In astonishing detail, award-winning journalist Joan Quigley, the granddaughter of Centralia miners, ushers readers into the dramatic world of the underground blaze——from the media circus and back-room deal-making spawned in the wake of Todd's sudden disappearance, to the inner lives of every day Centralians who fought a government that wouldn't listen.

Drawing on interviews with key participants and exclusive new research, Quigley paints unforgettable portraits of Centralia and its residents, from Tom Larkin, the short-order cook and ex-hippie who rallied the activists, to Helen Womer, a bank teller who galvanized the opposition, denying the fire's existence even as toxic fumes invaded her home. Here, too, we see the failures of major
political and government figures, from Centralia's congressman, "Dapper" Dan Flood, a former actor who later resigned in the wake of corruption allegations, to James Watt, a former lawyer-lobbyist for the mining industry, who became President Reagan's controversial interior secretary.

Like Jonathan Harr's A Civil Action, The Day the Earth Caved In is a seminal investigation of individual rights, corporate privilege, and governmental indifference to the powerless. Exposing facts ...

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ISBN-10: 1400061806
ISBN-13: 978-1400061808
Author: Joan Quigley
Genre: Nonfiction, Mining
Publisher: Random House
Date Published: April 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
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