Hulk Hogan is a gay?

Hulk (real name: Terry Bollea) tried to keep a sense of humor about the fracas while making a Saturday appearance at the Spike TV Video Game Awards in Culver City, Calif.

“After the four-year crazy divorce I thought I’d heard everything I could hear in the courtroom,” he told Us Weekly, laughing. “Then, all of a sudden she says I abused her, that I was violent. She told everybody that I was a homosexual.” (Linda leveled her claims in both a shocking memoir and interviews promoting the book.

Clarified Hogan about Linda’s charge that he had a sexual relationship with fellow wrestler Brutus Beefcake: “If any of that was true, I would admit it, and I was a homosexual I would embrace it. It’s just so crazy to hear, so I have a real problem with it….If you’re going to say I’m something that I’m not to try to ruin my career and my livelihood….I have to answer her back.”

Hogan, who shares daughter Brooke, 23, and son Nick, 21, with Linda, told Us he’s baffled by the situation.

Baby Gifts for 2011 The Best of The Best!

The best baby gifts are those that are given by a thoughtful friend or family member. It’s not hard to find wonderful baby gift ideas. Think about what the mom may need right after the baby arrives and also what they both may need in the future or what the baby would enjoy and play with.

Just be creative and take your time choosing your gift. A thoughtful gift, makes this a special time for everyone to remember. Babies love presents! The pure joy when they get the gift open and the smile they get when they play with it. We have selected baby gifts that really stand out from the pack for their quality, entertainment and educational value. We’ve assembled the most popular and highest rated baby products and we are featuring them in this baby gifts guide for you to consider when choosing your unique gift.

What are the top baby gifts for 2011? In addition to great shopping, this page has a cool interactive visitor poll with a quest to determine The Top Baby Gifts for 2011 These gifts will definitely have a baby smiling, and a parent applauding as well.



America’s 3 Richest Zip Codes as of 2011

No. 1 Richest Zip Code: 33480
Location: Palm Beach, Fla.

No. households: 5,505*
Pct. change in no. households since 2000: 13.76*
Average household income: $370,136
Average household net worth: $1,486,123

The town of Palm Beach—in America’s richest Zip Code, 33480—is a 16-mile barrier island with the Atlantic Ocean on its eastern boundary and Lake Worth on the west. High-end shopping and dining establishments can be found on Worth Avenue, and the island provides polo, golf, tennis, yachting, and deep-sea fishing, according to Sotheby’s International Realty. The predominant group is executives and professionals in their 40s and 50s with no children. The median age, according to 2010 census data, was 67.5.

No. 2 Richest Zip Code: 11568
Location: Old Westbury, N.Y.

No. households: 1,047
Pct. change in no. households since 2000: 8.61
Average household income: $282,981
Average household net worth: $1,547,866

On Long Island’s north shore, about 25 miles from Manhattan, Old Westbury is New York’s most affluent suburb, according to Gadberry Group. It is home to the Meadowbrook Polo Club, the country’s oldest polo field, and Old Westbury Gardens, built in 1906. The predominant group is elite couples and singles.

No. 3 Richest Zip Code: 60043
Location: Kenilworth, Ill.

No. households: 810
Pct. change in no. households since 2000: 1.00
Average household income: $323,588
Average household net worth: $1,558,833



No. 1 Richest Zip Code: 33480
Location: Palm Beach, Fla.

No. households: 5,505*
Pct. change in no. households since 2000: 13.76*
Average household income: $370,136
Average household net worth: $1,486,123

The town of Palm Beach—in America’s richest Zip Code, 33480—is a 16-mile barrier island with the Atlantic Ocean on its eastern boundary and Lake Worth on the west. High-end shopping and dining establishments can be found on Worth Avenue, and the island provides polo, golf, tennis, yachting, and deep-sea fishing, according to Sotheby’s International Realty. The predominant group is executives and professionals in their 40s and 50s with no children. The median age, according to 2010 census data, was 67.5.

No. 2 Richest Zip Code: 11568
Location: Old Westbury, N.Y.

No. households: 1,047
Pct. change in no. households since 2000: 8.61
Average household income: $282,981
Average household net worth: $1,547,866

On Long Island’s north shore, about 25 miles from Manhattan, Old Westbury is New York’s most affluent suburb, according to Gadberry Group. It is home to the Meadowbrook Polo Club, the country’s oldest polo field, and Old Westbury Gardens, built in 1906. The predominant group is elite couples and singles.

No. 3 Richest Zip Code: 60043
Location: Kenilworth, Ill.

No. households: 810
Pct. change in no. households since 2000: 1.00
Average household income: $323,588
Average household net worth: $1,558,833

The village of Kenilworth, about 17 miles from downtown Chicago and south of 60093, the No. 14 richest Zip Code, is the wealthiest area in the Midwest, according to Gadberry’s analysis. The average household income in this exclusive North Shore suburb is $323,588. Elite couples and singles are the predominant residents.


Leahy: Breast reconstruction is more than cosmetic

Cosmetic breast surgery has gotten something of a bad rap over the years. The idea of “having some work done” on the breasts may actually be keeping many women who might benefit from breast reconstructive surgery from considering it.
Each year, more than 254,000 American women battle breast cancer. But according to a new study, less than one-fifth of women who undergo mastectomy currently choose to have breast reconstruction.

A stigma equating elective cosmetic surgery with reconstructive surgery is partially to blame, along with a woman’s hesitation to put herself first. There are also lingering perceptions that surgery can affect the chances of cancer returning, when in fact studies exist, including high volume studies in literature, that indicate that reconstructive surgeries have been shown to increase a patient’s survival rate and quality of life.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons is more optimistic, estimating that 93,000 women in America underwent breast reconstruction following mastectomies last year, an increase of nearly 20 percent from a decade ago.

The study’s author urges the medical community to educate patients about reconstructive surgery before mastectomies and other surgeries are performed to help them make a well-informed decision, which is now law in New York, and the vision statement of the National Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day.

In reconstruction surgery, plastic surgeons can help re-create lost breast tissue from mastectomy through a variety of treatment options. The fact that the patient has options and choices at this stage of treatment is one major reason why plastic surgeons enjoy working with these patients.

Options range from simple to more complex, depending upon the situation. One option is NOT to have reconstruction. I believe all patients should at least have the benefit of meeting with a surgeon to discuss their cases. I sometimes utilize a breast implant to re-create the lost volume, and other times I borrow the patient’s own tissues to do the job. This would be followed down the road by nipple and areolar reconstruction to help the woman feel better about herself moving forward.

Sometimes women are born with deformities of the breasts that lead to small or distorted growth of the tissues, often only on one side. This leads to similar problems mentioned above, and especially feelings of self-consciousness during the teenage years and early 20s. These conditions can also be greatly improved by plastic surgery.

While I may not be able to hit a particular cup size, owing to differences in design and manufacturing, the goal is to provide a natural appearance to the breast that is symmetric and balances the rest of the patient’s figure as well.

Plastic surgeons take the initial consultation with patients considering breast procedures very seriously. We encourage patients to bring a friend or family member to help ask questions and to remember the information. Plan to take some time on your first visit, so you can talk with your surgeon in a relaxed fashion. I try to provide as much detail as the patient is interested in hearing, focusing on the goals and expectations of the procedure, recovery and potential complications that can develop.

For cases covered by third-party insurance companies (breast reduction/reconstruction), there may be other steps that are required in terms of documentation. Make sure your surgeon’s office is aware of these nuances and can help negotiate this process.

The final results of breast reconstruction following mastectomy can help lessen the physical and emotional impact of mastectomy.

There are trade-offs. In some situations, it may not be possible to achieve optimal results with a single surgical procedure, so another surgery may be necessary. But most women feel these are small compared to the large improvement in their quality of life and the ability to look and feel whole again.

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WISH LIST of a Shoplifter

Exactly what are people stealing? Here is the top 10 most shoplifted items of 2011 and they’re truly bizarre.

1. Filet mignon

So many people are tucking choice cuts of meats under their jackets that supermarkets are now considered the stores with the most theft.

2. Jameson

Those with an unquenchable thirst for booze just help themselves to a free bottle of expensive liquor.

3. Electric tools
Apparently the the most common items men nab are electric toothbrushes and power tools. At least they’re fighting cavities.

4. iPhone 4
Electronics like smartphones and video games are high risk items, and one research group claims 100,000 laptops are stolen annually from big box stores.

5. Gillette Mach 4

Anyone who uses non-disposable razors knows they’re pretty expensive, so in tough financial times people don’t want to pay for them anymore.

6. Axe
The men’s deodorant and body wash we love to hate are often stolen in mass quantities and resold at flea markets and corner stores. Dial is popular amongst thieves too.

7. Polo Ralph Lauren
Clothing theft is up 31 percent since 2009. It’s hard to look good in a bad economy, so some score fresh threads the illegal way.

8. Let’s Rock Elmo
The Sesame Street toy topped the Toys’R’Us “Hot Toys” list this year, so parents are stealing this must-have toy for their kids if they can’t afford it.

9. Chanel No. 5

Who wouldn’t love a bottle of this popular woman’s fragrance? Expensive perfumes make up nearly four percent of loss in stores that carry them.

10. Nikes

Some shoppers wear flip-flops into a store, try on a pair of sneakers, and walk out wearing them. Sneaker heads will do whatever it takes to score the kicks on their wish list.

What’s Out: the Fashion Trend

Prom DressesDavid Wolfe has been analyzing style trends for 41 years. But last week, Mr. Wolfe, creative director of the Doneger Group consultants, stood up in a room full of retail executives and told them: “There are no more trends. Everything is in style.”

Even as the fashion press gears up for an orgy of trend-spotting at New York fashion week, which starts Feb. 11, many observers feel Mr. Wolfe is right: We’ve reached the end of the trend as the guiding stricture in fashion. The “must-have” currently being attached to certain styles—The trench coat! The one-shoulder dress! Metallics!—is little more than a marketing pitch.

The trench coat and formal gowns has been “in” for the past five years, and will be hot next year, too. Indeed, it’s a safe bet that next month we’ll see every possible length of skirt, width of pant and cut of blouse walk the runways—sometimes all in the same show.

Rather than fuss about skirt lengths or the season’s silhouette, people now dress the way they see themselves, choosing looks that flatter their bodies and fit their lifestyles. Most of us dress with our social groups or professions, rather than fashion trends, using clothes to flash messages about who we are.

A chief executive in the tech business may don Gap chinos and a blazer for work, while investment banking chiefs remain loyal to their Zegna suits. Others dress according to the mores of their own personal tribes: If you don’t dress steampunk, you may not even know it’s a style (think 19th-century mad scientist in leather waistcoat with goggles and a pocket watch).

There was a time when luxury retailers Stanley Marcus and Andrew Goodman, of Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, determined what women would buy each season. That was back when nerds weren’t cool and, for some reason, a lady’s coat had to be longer than her skirt. Women who wanted to be fashionable bought the fashions whether they wanted to wear miniskirts or not. Though fashions changed, the primacy of trends didn’t: Until just a few years ago, no self-respecting teenager would have been caught in the wrong denim wash. Part of the fun of watching old movies was seeing the funny old fashions.

Now, most old film fashions look pretty current to me, from Katharine Hepburn’s swishy man-tailored pants in 1940’s “Philadelphia Story” to those skinny ski-lodge capris in 1963’s “The Pink Panther.”

“Trends are diluted,” says Doris Raymond, owner of the Los Angeles vintage store The Way We Wore. That’s because designers have in the past two decades “referenced every possible fashion period for inspiration.”

The style consensus has been splintering for nearly a decade as workplaces have grown more casual and fields like tech have pursued their own tribal dress codes. Meanwhile, young celebrities have championed a mix-and-match aesthetic. “The industry is fragmenting, reflecting consumers’ desire to create their own style,” says Marie Driscoll, director of consumer discretionary retail coverage for Standard & Poor’s equity research.

Retailers like Zara, H&M and Forever 21 have contributed to “fast fashion,” gobbling their way through looks. Last week in New York, H&M sale racks displayed blurry-print floral blouses based on designer looks that were shown on the runways in September. When those designers’ own clothes arrive in stores in March, H&M customers may well view the originals with déjà vu. Runway looks are now accessible to everyone—but their cachet disappears a lot faster.

I welcome democratic fashion as one of the many benefits of being alive in 2010. But it can be a headache for the fashion industry, which once could depend on trends to lure customers and still maintains a trend-spotting infrastructure to figure out who will buy what. Predicting trends is “more challenging every year,” says Sharon Graubard, a trend analyst with fashion consultancy Stylesight. “With fewer ‘must-have’ items, retailers and designers have to try harder,” she says.

Some new retailers are letting customers dictate the details. “Fashion has traditionally been this top-down industry, but we saw that technology” could allow consumers to choose their own details, says Abby Holtz, director of marketing for indiCustom, a San Francisco retailer of custom jeans and shirts that launched in 2008. Its IndiDenim brand lets shoppers pick fabric, leg shape, pockets and other details for customized jeans.

But there’s one fashion segment where trend is increasingly dominant: menswear, where pleats are “out” and trim, flat-front pants are “in,” says Andy Gilchrist, author of “The Encyclopedia of Men’s Clothes” and founder of the “Ask Andy” Web site. “It seems,” he says, “that the designers and retailers are trying to get men into that ‘old’ women’s fashion trend cycle.”

U.N. Condemns ‘Acts’ in Israeli Flotilla Raid

Israel’s commando raid on a flotilla of pro-Palestinian “aid” ships that left nine activists dead has touched off a chain of events from the United Nations to Egypt’s border with Gaza that threaten to isolate the Jewish state from the international community.

The U.N. Security Council called early Tuesday for an “impartial” investigation of Israel’s deadly raid and condemned the “acts” that resulted in the loss of at least nine lives, a watered-down version of a resolution sought by Islamic nations leading the ferocious international condemnation of Israel.

Not far from the site of the naval raid, several thousand Gazans are making a furious rush to the Egyptian border, hoping to take advantage of a rare chance to escape the blockaded territory.

Egypt announced Tuesday it was temporarily opening its border with Gaza to allow aid into the impoverished territory, where 1.5 million Palestinians have been hemmed in by land and sea since Hamas took over in 2007. Dozens of Hamas police with automatic weapons were patrolling the border Tuesday as residents made a mad dash to escape the area.

Organizers of the flotilla, which was intercepted by Israeli commandos as it tried to run a blockade, said they were undeterred and that another cargo boat was off the coast of Italy en route to Gaza Tuesday. A second boat carrying about three dozen passengers is expected to join it, said Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza Movement, which organized the flotilla. She told the Associated Press the two boats would arrive in the region late this week or early next week.

“They’re going to have to stop the blockade of Gaza, and one of the ways to do this is for us to continue to send the boats,” she said.

The flotilla set sail from Turkey and was packed with 679 activists — many of whom were from the onetime close ally of Israel. But on Tuesday Turkey’s Prime Minister called the raid a “bloody massacre,” withdrawing its ambassador to Israel and demanding that the United States condemn the botched raid.

“Today is a turning point in history,” said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “Nothing will be same again.”

Marathon negotiations at an emergency meeting of the Security Council produced a presidential statement weaker than was demanded by the Palestinians, Arabs and Turkey because of objections by the United States.

The Islamic nations had called for condemnation of Monday’s attack by Israeli forces on the flotilla “in the strongest terms” and “an independent international investigation.”

But the presidential statement that was finally agreed to and read at a formal council meeting instead called for “a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards.” And it only condemned “those acts” that resulted in deaths, without naming Israel.

The long and difficult negotiations were conducted primarily by the United States with Turkey and Lebanon, which are both non-permanent council members.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, whose country drafted the initial presidential statement, called the Israeli raid “banditry and piracy” on the high seas and “murder conducted by a state.”

Palestinian U.N. observer Riyad Mansour called it a “war crime,” and told an open Security Council meeting that “those fleets, one after the other, will be coming until the unethical blockade is put to an end and the suffering stops for our people.”

While the Palestinians and Turks insisted that the activists on the ships were delivering aid to impoverished Gazans suffering under a three-year Israeli embargo, Israel’s deputy U.N. ambassador Daniel Carmon said “this flotilla was anything but a humanitarian mission.”

Some activists have “terrorist history” and its organizers support radical Islamic groups such as Hamas, which controls Gaza and refuses to recognize Israel’s existence, he said.

Carmon defended the legality of Israel’s blockade and the boarding of the ships — which refused repeated calls to send their cargo to Gaza through Israel — as “a preventive measure.” He called the results “tragic and unfortunate.”

The U.N.’s presidential statement also “deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries” and requests the immediate release of the ships and civilians being held by Israel. It urges Israel to permit consular access and allow countries to retrieve their dead and wounded immediately.

The council also urged Israel “to ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance from the convoy to its destination” and stressed that the situation in Gaza “is not sustainable.”

Council members reiterated “their grave concern at the humanitarian situation in Gaza and stress the need for sustained and regular flow of goods and people to Gaza as well as unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance through Gaza.”

Mansour said this was “the clearest statement by the Security Council on lifting the siege against the Gaza Strip.”

The flotilla was the ninth attempt by sea to breach the blockade Israel and Egypt imposed after Hamas violently seized the territory. Israel allowed five seaborne aid shipments through but snapped the blockade shut after its 2009 war in Gaza.

There was little call in Israel for an end to the blockade. Israelis have little sympathy for Gaza, which sent thousands of rockets and mortar rounds crashing into Israel for years before last year’s war.

Tensions along the Israeli-Gaza border were tense following the naval raid.

The Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad said three of its fighters were killed Tuesday shortly after firing rockets into southern Israel. Israeli authorities say the rockets landed in open areas and caused no injuries.

The Israeli military confirmed its airstrike, and Gaza’s chief medical examiner also said there were three deaths.

On Tuesday morning, the Israeli military said Gaza militants infiltrated Israel and exchanged fire with troops. Israeli rescue services said two militants were killed, but the military would not immediately confirm that.

Rogue Thai general reputed to be Red Shirt’s military strategist shot in the head in Bangkok

BANGKOK (AP) — A renegade army general accused of leading a paramilitary force among Thailand’s Red Shirt protesters was shot in the head Thursday, apparently by a sniper, an aide said, after the government warned it would shoot “terrorists.”

In an interview with The Associated Press about 90 minutes before he was shot, Maj. Gen. Khattiya Sawasdiphol said he anticipated a military crackdown soon — as security forces moved to seal an area of central Bangkok which has been occupied by thousands of the protesters for weeks.

“It’s either dusk or dawn when the troops will go in,” he said. He was shot soon after night fell.

An aide who answered Khattiya’s mobile phone described the injury as “severe.” The AP called Khattiya’s phone after several gunshots and explosions were heard late Thursday from the vicinity of the Red Shirt’s redoubt in the upscale Rajprasong district.

“Seh Daeng was shot in the head,” said the aide, referring to Khattiya by his nickname. The aide hung up without identifying himself.

The government’s medical emergency center confirmed that Khattiya was shot in the head and admitted to the intensive care unit at a hospital.

It was not possible to verify the aide’s claim that Khattiya was shot by a sniper. Calls to police and army spokesmen seeking comment were not answered.

The Red Shirts, many from the rural poor, are demanding an immediate dissolution of Parliament. They believe Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s coalition government came to power illegitimately through manipulation of the courts and the backing of the powerful military.

Tens of thousands of them streamed into the capital on March 12 and occupied an area in the historic district of Bangkok. An army attempt to clear them on April 10 led to clashes that killed 25 people and wounded more than 800. Another four people were killed in related clashes in the following weeks.

Thursday’s shooting will only deepen fears of more bloodshed.

Khattiya is a renegade army major general whom the government has labeled a “terrorist” and a mastermind behind some of the violence.

He bitterly opposed reconciling with the government and had recently become critical of Red Shirt leaders, some of whom had wanted to accept a government proposal to end Thailand’s political crisis.

The firing came after the government said it will impose a military lockdown on the Rajprasong area to evict the protesters.

Khattiya, who helped construct the Red Shirt barricades of sharpened bamboo stakes and tires around the protest area, was accused of creating a paramilitary force among the anti-government protesters and had vowed to battle against the army if it should launch a crackdown.

In the AP interview, he accused Red Shirt leaders of taking government bribes to accept Abhisit’s reconciliation plan to hold elections on Nov. 14. However, the plan was abandoned after the Red Shirts made new demands and refused to leave.

“The prime minister and the Red Shirts were on the verge of striking a deal but then I came in. Suddenly, I became an important person,” he said.

“This time, the people’s army will fight the army. There is no need to teach the people how to fight. There are no forms or plan of attack. You let them fight with their own strategies,” he said.

Khattiya was suspended from the army in January and became a fugitive from justice last month after when an arrest warrant was issued against him and two dozen others linked to the Red Shirts for their purported roles in the violence. Yet he has wandered freely through the protest zone, signing autographs just yards (meters) from security forces keeping watch over the protesters.

Earlier Thursday, an army spokesman, Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, said security forces were preparing to impose a lockdown on the 1-square-mile (3-square-kilometer) area where the Red Shirts have barricaded themselves in a posh area of shopping malls, hotels and upscale apartments. A reporter for TNN television said electricity went out late Thursday.

Sansern said armored personnel carriers and snipers will surround the area. Power, public transport and mobile phone service in the area was also suspended.

Sansern said troops will use rubber bullets first but will not hesitate to use live ammunition in self-defense if attacked.

“In addition, another unit of … sharpshooters will be on the lookout and will shoot terrorists who carry weapons,” he said.

The Red Shirts see Abhisit’s government as serving an elite insensitive to the plight of most Thais. The protesters include many supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist leader accused of corruption and abuse of power and ousted in a 2006 military coup.

Thaksin, a former telecommunications billionaire who fled overseas to avoid a corruption conviction, is widely believed to be helping to bankroll the protests. He claims to be a victim of political persecution.

May Be Wednesday Before Hole Drilled in Search for W.Va. Mine Blast Survivors

MONTCOAL, W.Va. — A huge underground explosion blamed on methane gas killed 25 coal miners in the worst U.S. mining disaster since 1984, and rescuers on Tuesday began a dangerous and possibly futile attempt to rescue four others still missing.

Crews were bulldozing an access road so they could drill 1,000 feet into the earth to release gases and make it safe to try to find the missing miners. They were feared dead after the Monday afternoon blast at a mine with a history of violations for not properly ventilating highly combustible methane.

Rescuers were being held back by poison gases that accumulated near the blast site, about 1.5 miles from the entrance to Massey Energy Co.’s sprawling Upper Big Branch mine.

They had to create an access road above it before they could begin drilling four shafts to release methane and carbon monoxide. Gov. Joe Manchin said at a news briefing Tuesday that it could be Wednesday night before the first hole is drilled.

“It’s a slow process,” Manchin said. “It’s just going to be a slow process.”

It had already been a long day for grieving relatives, some angry because they found out their loved ones were among the dead from government officials or a company Web site, not from Massey Energy executives.

“They’re supposed to be a big company,” said Michelle McKinney, who found out from a local official at a nearby school that her 62-year-old father, Benny R. Willingham, died in the blast. “These guys, they took a chance every day to work and make them big. And they couldn’t even call us.”

McKinney said her husband is a miner too and her 16-year-old son doesn’t want him to go back to work. Willingham, who had mined for 30 years, the last 17 with Massey, was just five weeks from retiring and planned to take his wife on a cruise to the Virgin Islands next month.

U.S. Rep. Nick Rayhall, D-W.Va., said at a press briefing Wednesday that Massey should have been in better contact with families.

Three members of the same family were among the dead. Diana Davis said her husband, Timmy Davis, 51, died in the explosion along with his nephews, Josh Napper, 27, and Cory Davis, 20.

The elder Davis’ son, Timmy Davis Jr., said his brother, Cody Davis, and an uncle, Tommy Davis, were also at the mine at the time and survived the blast. He said his brother was taking it particularly hard because he and their father were best friends.

Timmy Davis Jr. described his dad as passionate about the outdoors and the mines.

“He loved to work underground,” the younger Davis said. “He loved that place.”

President Barack Obama offered his condolences at an Easter prayer breakfast in Washington on Tuesday and said the federal government is ready to assist with whatever the state needs. He also asked the audience to pray for those lost in what he called a tragic accident.

Kevin Stricklin, an administrator for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, said the situation looked grim for the missing miners.

“All we have left is hope, and we’re going to continue to do what we can,” he said.

Officials hoped the four miners still unaccounted for were able to reach airtight chambers stocked with food, water and enough oxygen for them to live for four days, but rescue teams checked one of two such chambers nearby and it was empty. The buildup of gases prevented teams from reaching other chambers, officials said.

A total of 31 miners were in the area during a shift change when the explosion rocked the mine, about 30 miles south of Charleston.

“Before you knew it, it was just like your ears stopped up, you couldn’t hear and the next thing you know, it’s just like you’re just right in the middle of a tornado,” miner Steve Smith, who heard the explosion but was able to escape, told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Some of those killed may have died in the blast and others when they breathed in the gas-filled air, Stricklin said. Eleven bodies had been recovered and identified, but the other 14 have not. Names weren’t released publicly.

He said investigators still don’t know what ignited the blast, but methane likely played a part.

The death toll is the highest in a U.S. mine since 1984, when 27 died in a fire at Emery Mining Corp.’s mine in Orangeville, Utah. If the four missing bring the total to 29, it would be the most killed in a U.S. mine since a 1970 explosion killed 38 at Finley Coal Co., in Hyden, Ky.

“There’s always danger. There’s so many ways you can get hurt, or your life taken,” said Gary Williams, a miner and pastor of New Life Assembly, a church near the southern West Virginia mine. “It’s not something you dread every day, but there’s always that danger. But for this area, it’s the only way you’re going to make a living.”

Though the situation looked bleak, Manchin said miracles can happen and pointed to the 2006 Sago Mine explosion that killed 12. Crews found miner Randal McCloy Jr. alive after he was trapped for more than 40 hours in an atmosphere poisoned with carbon monoxide.

In Monday’s blast, nine miners were leaving on a vehicle that takes them in and out of the mine’s long shaft when a crew ahead of them felt a blast of air and went back to investigate, Stricklin said.

They found seven workers dead. Others were hurt or missing about a mile and a half inside the mine, though there was some confusion over how many. Others made it out.

In a statement early Tuesday, Massey Chairman and CEO Don Blankenship offered his condolences to the families of the dead.

Massey Energy, a publicly traded company based in Richmond, Va., has 2.2 billion tons of coal reserves in southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, southwest Virginia and Tennessee. It ranks among the nation’s top five coal producers and is among the industry’s most profitable. It has a spotty safety record.

In the past year, federal inspectors fined the company more than $382,000 for repeated serious violations involving its ventilation plan and equipment at Upper Big Branch.

Methane is one of the great dangers of coal mining, and federal records say the Eagle coal seam releases up to 2 million cubic feet of methane gas into the Upper Big Branch mine every 24 hours, which is a large amount, said Dennis O’Dell, health and safety director for the United Mine Workers labor union.

In mines, giant fans are used to keep the colorless, odorless gas concentrations below certain levels. If concentrations are allowed to build up, the gas can explode with a spark roughly similar to the static charge created by walking across a carpet in winter, as at the Sago mine, also in West Virginia.

Since then, federal and state regulators have required mine operators to store extra oxygen supplies. Upper Big Branch uses containers that can generate about an hour of breathable air, and all miners carry a container on their belts besides the stockpiles inside the mine. Upper Big Branch has had three other fatalities in the last dozen years.

Upper Big Branch has 19 openings and roughly 7-foot ceilings. Inside, it’s crisscrossed with railroad tracks used for hauling people and equipment. It is located in a mine-laced swath of Raleigh and Boone counties that is the heart of West Virginia’s coal country.

The seam produced 1.2 million tons of coal in 2009, according to the mine safety agency, and has about 200 employees.