Miles Hatfield was walking into his dining room when he felt the wooden floor give way. His legs dropped hip-deep into water that had pooled under the brick house in the green hills of eastern Kentucky where he had lived for the past 40 years, trapping him in his own floor.
Hatfield, a retired coal miner, raised two boys in the house a few miles from the West Virginia border and added on five rooms as his family grew. But the red water running off from the nearby Love Branch coal mine had turned his backyard into a marsh, ruined his septic system, and finally sucked him through his floor three years ago.
Love Branch used to be owned by one of the biggest coal companies in the U.S. Federal law requires companies to clean up the land when they finish mining — and Love Branch hasn’t produced any coal in more than a decade. But the former owner, now named Alpha Metallurgical Resources Inc., transferred the mine and its cleanup obligations to a smaller company in 2018, the year before Hatfield fell through his floor.
“They pretty well destroyed me up there,” says Hatfield, 70, who had to move to a rental nearby. “Everything for me is gone.” Kentucky regulators have said that Love Branch caused the flooding of Hatfield’s home and those of his neighbors above Deer Lick Road.
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