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Out of energy

A West Virginia town struggles to come back after the coal mines closed

Whitesville, W. Va., tries to come back after the coal mines close

This segment originally aired Dec. 14, 2016, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

For years, politicians have promised to bring jobs and prosperity back to America’s depressed coal-producing regions. But that won’t be so easy to pull off, because in many places the industry didn’t so much decline as vanish.  We went to a coal town in West Virginia where the way forward doesn’t lead back to the mines.

“The coal miner, sad to say, is a dying breed,” Whitesville, West Virginia, resident Nova Jo Cooper told VICE News correspondent Josh Hersh. “It just is.”

Whitesville was once a vibrant community in coal country. Today, heroin use is on the rise and the police department is down to three officers.

David Hodges and other residents have lost confidence in politicians who promise to bring back the coal industry. Instead, he’s working on opening a grocery store. It would be the first new business to open in Whitesville in years.

“They all want to talk about how they’re going to fix the coal problem, they’re going to put people back to work,” Hodges said. “But yet you’ve not been here to see it.”

Rather than waiting for politicians to help, residents like Hodges are trying to rebuild their town’s economy — one mom-and-pop shop at a time.

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