Mine closed for good, 400 jobs lost

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Reporter - Jason Hibbs
Photojournalist - Mason Watkins

SALINE COUNTY, Ill--- First it was a deadly tornado that wiped out part of their town now hundreds of families are looking at a very difficult Christmas, now that 400 miners are out of a job.  The Willow Lake Mine near Harrisburg Illinois was shut down less than two weeks ago, when an employee was killed after being pinned by a piece of machinery he was operating.
That's the second deadly accident at Willow Lake, since it opened in 2002.
But this mine already had a troubled history; the department of labor cited the mine owner, Peabody Energy, more than 200 times for safety violations just in the past year.
Today Peabody announced they'll close the Willow Lake Mine for good, sending 400 families and an entire city scrambling for help, again.
To the untrained eye this might look like a normal night at the Willow Lake Coal Mine. 
It's actually anything but normal, today the 400 people who work here learned the mine is closing for good, and they have 60 days to find another job.

"That's going to be rough on a bunch of my friends," Ky Mann said.

Nearly everyone in nearby Harrisburg is in some way connected to the mine, and that's why Mayor Eric Gregg worries about the future of his city.

"These are great family, quality of life jobs and when you take that out of your economy it really it has a huge effect," Mayor Gregg said.

Gregg hopes to somehow save these jobs, and says he'll contact lawmakers and Peabody Energy first thing tomorrow.

"I'm willing to do whatever it takes to turn that coal mine around," Gregg said.

As the city searches for ways to keep the mine open, a Peabody spokesperson said the company is in the process of determining how to close it; how many employees will be needed how long it will take to shut down the mine for good.

Willow Lake employees we spoke with didn't want to go on camera because they're hopeful they'll be called back to help with closure activities, a process Peabody wants to complete by March.
A Peabody spokesperson said the closure process includes recovering equipment from the mine, sealing the shafts, and ultimately restoring surface lands.

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