NORTON, VA., DEC. 10 -- Marvin Swiney says the money to be made in the hazardous coal mines of Southwest Virginia was good enough for him, but it's not good enough for his children.

After a mine explosion here Monday that killed eight miners -- the deadliest incident in a Virginia coal mine in 34 years -- Swiney reflected the ambivalence many feel about the industry that dominates the local economy and culture.

With a family to raise, Swiney, 38, said he decided several years ago that being in the mines -- where workers make as much as $20 an hour -- was "worth every bit of the danger. There's no comparison to what you make elsewhere."

But now Swiney is out of work, disabled after a severe back injury he suffered working in the mine. He said this week's disaster was only the latest reminder of the constant danger.

"I wouldn't be happy if one of my kids worked in the mines," he said. "I'm hoping my kids will go to college, get a degree and get out of here."

After a three-day rescue effort during which families held out hope the trapped miners might still be alive, the bodies of seven of the eight men were found Wednesday night, and officials have concluded there is no way the eighth man could have survived.

All eight bodies remained underground today after rescue teams fled from the mine because of high levels of methane gas, which they feared could cause a second explosion at Southmountain Coal Co.'s Mine No. 3.

Authorities have not released the victims' names, but according to family members and local news reports, they are brothers Claude and Palmer Sturgill, of Pound, Va.; Danny Ray Gentry, of Norton; Brian Owens, of Haysi, Va.; and David Carlton, Michael Mullins, James Mullins and Norman Vanover, all of Clintwood, Va.

Federal and state officials directing the rescue effort said they hoped they could get back in the mine by Friday.

Crews drilled a second hole into the mine today to allow the methane to escape.

Meanwhile, others working in the coal fields were left brooding about the explosion, the worst disaster in a Virginia coal mine since a blast at a Tazewell County mine killed 22 people in 1958.

"It makes you wary," said David Williams, a miner at Westmoreland Coal Co.'s Bullitt Mine in nearby Big Stone Gap.

Williams said it does little good to spend much time thinking of the dangers.

"The pay is the best you can get around here," he said. "It's not the best job in the world, but I'm willing to take the danger. . . . You try not to think about it."

Williams said that just three months ago a co-worker known for his safe work habits died after a stone fell on his head.

"It's something that can't be avoided," Williams said. "There's some things that destiny is just going to control."

That kind of fatalism is common.

"Look, it's a way of life," union official Sam Church said. "We go through so many of these tragedies over the years. People go through the grief and agony but they go on. If you go away from coal mining here, you go to minimum wage."

But if people aren't leaving coal mining jobs because of the danger, the industry's prominence in this region is diminishing nevertheless. Coal companies aren't hiring nearly as much as they used to, and many young people say they don't want to work in the mines anyway.

Shannon Brooks's father works in mining, but the 17-year-old senior at John I. Burton High School here said he wants to go to Virginia Military Institute, then on to medical school and life in the city.

"From a young age my parents have been telling me to get out of here," Brooks said. "They said if you get a job here, you'll never leave."

Burton High guidance counselor Jola Carico said many of the graduates who don't go to college end up in low-wage jobs in retail stores and fast-food restaurants. The unemployment rate in Wise County, where the explosion occurred, is 12.5 percent, the highest in the state.

Signs of poverty aren't hard to find, but the Norton area is not the stereotypical picture of Appalachian squalor.

It resembles many rural communities -- a core of small aging shops downtown and strips of fast-food restaurants and discount stores such as Wal-Mart on the highway just outside town. On the winding hillside roads near the mines, most of the houses are modest but well-kept.

"People think we're a bunch of {hillbillies}, but we're not," said Harold Fields.

Fields said Monday's explosion demonstrated that this area retains a distinctive sense of community.

He cited the volunteers who brought food and portable heaters to the area where families of the trapped miners waited for word of the rescue efforts.

"Everybody pulls together here," Fields said. "It's not like in a city like Washington or Richmond; something like this affects everyone in the community."