: Dispatch from Centralia: once busy coal mining hub stands abandoned in the U.S.
Society15:49 May. 12, 2016

Dispatch from Centralia: once busy coal mining hub stands abandoned in the U.S.

Just like Ukraine's Chornobyl, Centralia was abandoned after disaster hit the community

Cars rarely pass by this road.  It's been abandoned for the last few years. Thirty years ago, there were no trees and bushes here.  Instead, there was a library, convenience stores, bars, hotel and half of dozen churches here.  The only one left is a Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church. Now this parish is the main meeting place for residents of Centralia.

More than one hundred years Centralia was a big mining town. First settlers here were of German, Irish and Ukrainian descent. The Ukrainian community here was one of the largest in the whole of Pennsylvania.


On this May 24, 2012 photo, Route 61 is shown eroded and covered in graffiti in Centralia, Pa. (AP)

Michael Hutsko, priest: "They came at the beginning of 20th century for economic reasons. The coal company here, in this region, was looking for labour. One of the things people found when they came here, the streets were no made with gold, the work was very hard and very difficult. Many of the men lost their lives of caves and explosions, the coal mines are very much like the Eastern part of Ukraine, they still have many tragic accidents, which took place there. "

Watch also The last holdouts in a Ukrainian ghost town

Father Michael is a priest at the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic parish here.  He is a third-generation Ukrainian but his masses are mostly in English.

Michael Hutsko, priest: "This is an honor for me to be a pastor here. This church was affected possibly when all of this was happening. The government sent people, who drilled holes into the ground. When they drilled holes here, in this church, there was no coal, it's build on solid rock. And because it was built on solid rock, there is no danger to the church. What the problem was that everyone was relocated, 8 people left in a borough of Centralia now from a town which had 12 hundred people. And the bishop of that time, Steven Sulek, determine that as long as people supported the parish, that long they want to keep parish alive."

In the 60's the mines of Centralia were inflamed often. Toxic gasses caused not only underground fires but death from carbon monoxide poisoning. Even during the bitter cold winters, people left their windows open to avoid being intoxicated by charcoal fumes.


On this Jan. 26, 1983, file photo, smoke rises from the ground in Centralia, Pa., where and uncontrolled underground mine fire was burning (AP)

Patrick Rooney, former resident: "I was born and raised here and I can tell you that people passed out in a class, the school was standing right in the middle of the zone where the mine fire was basically burning heavily. I remember being in class birds slamming in the windows, we have the windows open all the time in school. February below zero and windows was open because of carbon monoxide coming. In January and February, you have plants growing, a huckleberry bush and staff like that were bloom. It was more like an Amazon, this certain area. The humidity coming from the ground. Anything which falls, snow or rain, it didn't evaporate like that, it was just so humid environment. It was just interesting, you take people down this road and blueberry bush is growing. In February!"


On this Feb. 14, 1981, file photo, Todd Domboski, 12, of Centralia, Pa., looks over a barricade at the hole he fell through just hours before this photo was taken in Centralia, Pa. The hole was cause by a mine fire that had been burning since 1962 (AP)

Twenty years later due to the danger the U.S. government started to relocate people.  Officials also provided compensation for residents' houses. Since then Centralia is known as a ghost city.  There is no open fire anymore, but the underground fire is still burning and may continue to do so for 250 years.

Watch also A day in Chornobyl: town frozen in space and time

Despite the danger, people continue to come back to Centralia - some for the Sunday service at the Ukrainian church, some - to do some sightseeing, some to stay here. There are only 8 official residents of this ghost city - the youngest one is 42 years old.

This is Natalka Pisnya, for Ukraine Today, from Centralia, Pennsylvania

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