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Mine disaster kept Huntington mayor scrambling

When Hilary Gordon was appointed mayor of Huntington, she thought the biggest issue she'd be facing would involve stop signs.

Little did she know she'd soon be at the center of a mine disaster conducting late-night interviews with media from around the globe and attempting to console the families of six miners trapped deep below ground.

When she first went to the senior citizens center where families initially gathered, she said, "they were bewildered, in shock, crying — I could see their uncertainty and feel their pain."

Speaking to attendees of the 23rd annual Women's Conference hosted by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and his wife, Elaine, Gordon said she had been appointed mayor only two weeks before the Aug. 6 collapse at the Crandall Canyon coal mine near Huntington. Now she's running for election against Sharon Kay Baker Earl in the November election.

Today, Gordon said, the community is healing but "the families are struggling" as they continue to be pulled into the media spotlight and asked to appear at hearings. Gordon is also a member of a mine safety advisory council created by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., and she's hopeful that initiatives such as better training or requiring locators that would pinpoint miners' locations will be discussed.

"We bring up ideas," she said. "But it all comes down to money."

During the turbulent rescue efforts that were eventually suspended shortly after three rescuers were killed in another collapse, there wasn't much the mayor could do to help the families.

"We could put our arms around them," she said. "We could give them a hug."

Gordon also found she was an instant all-hours source for countless media outlets. She related how she needed a moment to herself the night of the second fatal collapse that killed three rescuers. So, she drew up a bath.

No sooner had she gotten into the tub than the phone rang. It was a reporter wanting to do a telephone interview, "right now." So she did the interview, careful not to splash.

However, she hadn't locked the bathroom door, and her 3-year-old granddaughter came in. The mayor put her hand over the phone, madly flashing her arms indicating "no, no" to keep the child from flushing.

That was just the start of a long night. After her bath, she rushed to the airport to meet Huntsman at 1 a.m., and the two visited the hospital and then conducted a press conference. Then, she got about an hour of sleep before a 4 a.m. telephone radio interview and then was whisked off to a media station for a television interview.

Through it all, she said, she was touched by the kindness of those who helped the bereaved families through donations, cards and homemade gifts.

During an auction to benefit the families, a woman said she didn't have any money to give but asked that her dog be auctioned off even if it was for only a few dollars. The woman wept when her dog sold for $500.

Of such moments, she says, "It's those kinds of feelings that kept us going."