A chemical leak from Freedom Industries into the Elk River, near West Virginia American Water's treatment plant, left thousands of West Virginians unable to use their water to drink, cook or wash for days.

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In 2010, West Virginia received a $126 million federal stimulus grant to bring high-speed Internet across the state. The Gazette is scrutinizing the state's stimulus spending in an ongoing series of reports.

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West Virginia leads the nation in diabetes, heart attacks, and obesity, among others. One in four West Virginia 11-year-olds has high blood pressure and high cholesterol. One in five kindergartners is obese.

As one public health official said, “This is a public health emergency.”

Learn about the problem, meet people who are trying to bring those numbers down, and learn what you can do.

This ongoing project has been created with the help of the Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism, administered by the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

The stories can also be viewed in chronological order at www.theshapewerein.wordpress.com

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West Virginia has the nation's highest rate of drug overdose deaths, with most involving prescription drugs. In January 2011, the Gazette published a four-day series on prescription drug abuse, and we continue to cover this topic.

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Chronicling police oversight in West Virginia

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On April 5, 2010 an explosion inside the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W.Va. killed 29 miners. It was the worst U.S. coal mining disaster in 40 years.

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A mess hangs over Workforce West Virginia, the state's employment training office. An ongoing Gazette investigation shows that a state official funneled grant money to her son's computer firm even after the son was on his way to prison for making lavish purchases on the Internet with stolen credit card numbers.

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An occasional series examining federal health care reform bills and their effect on West Virginians.

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In West Virginia, mining companies are literally moving mountains to uncover valuable, low sulfur coal reserves. Mountaintop removal has become the dominant form of surface mining in the state. Coal operators are blasting off hilltops, and dumping leftover rock and dirt into nearby valleys. An untold amount of the state has been flattened, and hundreds of miles of streams have been buried. Find out more in this Special Report.

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It's been 30 years since the worst construction accident in U.S. history claimed 51 lives in Pleasants County. Look back on the disaster, the investigation and the people left behind.
Read the first story in the series
Watch an audio slideshow with historic photos
Video: The disaster still felt, 30 years later
Click here for more related multimedia

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As the mortgage crisis shakes the national economy, what about West Virginia? What is the state's real foreclosure rate? Are there warning signs? What can policymakers do to protect West Virginia homeowners? West Virginia lenders foreclose far less often than out-of-state lenders do. What can be done to bring down the out-of-state rate?

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Roy Plummer robbed at least 14 banks in the 1980s. He fooled, among others, his first wife and baseball star John Kruk. When Plummer got out of jail, he started robbing again. His second wife Kathy Plummer believed he had been wrongly imprisoned and says she had no idea he resumed his life of crime.
Read the series

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December marked the 100th anniversary of the Monongah mining disaster, which took the lives of at least 362 men. Read the Gazette's coverage of the Monongah disaster: 100 years later.
Watch video from the anniversary event
View the 1907 Gazette story

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People who help police arrest drug dealers can earn thousands of dollars and avoid drug charges of their own. But some continue to commit crimes and falsely accuse suspects. This three-part series examines the role of confidential informants in the so-called "War on Drugs." To read this series, click here.

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Allegheny Energy is pushing a 500-kilovolt transmission line to carry electricity from Pennsylvania, through West Virginia, and into northern Virginia. Power company officials say the line is needed, but the proposal has hundreds of West Virginians up in arms.

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Historian John Alexander Williams once wrote: "In West Virginia, history often repeats itself. Perhaps the fact that our history is so painful explains why it is so poorly understood." Taking these words to heart, we set out to remember and re-examine the 1972 Buffalo Creek disaster on its 25th anniversary. The disaster had such far-reaching effects, we wanted to approach it from several different angles. Choosing a victim, a lawyer, a psychologist, an environmental inspector, and a rescue worker, the staff unlocked important lessons, vivid memories and a lot of tears. In addition, we wanted to examine the chances of history repeating itself. Coal-waste impoundments several times larger than Buffalo Creek still dot Appalachia, particular West Virginia. The experts say the people in the coalfields are safe, but for many years prior to the flood, those same words rang through the hollow known to history books, law journals and environmental studies as Buffalo Creek. To read this series, click here.

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Doctors are leaving Kanawha County, but for what reasons? Is it because of skyrocketing medical malpractice insurance rates, or are there other issues? And for those who left, what is life like nowadays? Find out answers to these questions and more in this four-part series.

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Spirit of the Mountains is a new multimedia feature. Viewers can watch slideshow productions by Gazette photographers, while listening to narration and audio recorded during the production of a story. New slideshows will follow in the coming weeks.

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Love it or hate it, the North American Free Trade Agreement is turning 10 years old. What has NAFTA brought to West Virginia? Find out in this three-part series.










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When they closed hundreds of West Virginia schools, state education officials promised to save millions of dollars and provide new advanced classes, without making bus rides much longer for students. A decade later, bus times are longer than ever, few advanced courses are offered to rural students, and those savings never materialized. Find out why in Closing Costs, a series about the legacy of school consolidation in West Virginia.

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Breakthroughs in medical science are allowing people to live longer. The population is graying as a result. This blessing also creates challenges, often for the adult children of aging parents. They wonder how to find a reliable caregiver, when to take the car keys away, how to secure power of attorney, and on and on. This occasional series of stories will focus on these questions, providing answers and insight from the experts and from those who have endured this often-painful life change.

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In 1977, the state Legislature declared that any person has the right to inspect or copy any public record of a public body in the state. How well do county governments comply with this mandate of the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act? To find out, The Associated Press, The Charleston Gazette and 11 other newspapers visited all 55 counties to test public records access. Read about our findings in this series.

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Every 10 years, the United States counts itself. We use the Census to decide how many seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives. But the Census also tells us about ourselves. It provides data about our age and race, about where we live and what kind of work we do. In December 2000, the U.S. Bureau of the Census released state-by-state population numbers that are used for Congressional apportionment. Starting March 28, the agency began releasing more detailed demographic information. The Charleston Gazette will provide detailed coverage of Census 2000, what it says about West Virginia, and what it means to our readers.

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Fifty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that separate but equal was inherently unequal. The courts decision in Brown vs. Board of Education set the stage for school integration, but also made a resounding statement toward societal integration as a whole. This series of stories examines Browns impact on West Virginia, and the work that still needs to be done.

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From wrinkle creams and chemical peels to Botox and body sculpting, Americans are waging a multibillion dollar war against growing old. In record numbers, they are paying through their capped teeth and reshaped noses to have offending, aging flesh lifted, shifted, sucked and sliced away. This eight-part series looks at the patients, the doctors, the costs and the risks of this booming business.

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From its headwaters in the highlands of Raleigh County to its confluence with the Kanawha River at St. Albans, the Coal River is an often-overlooked natural and recreational gem.




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This is an eight-part Sunday Gazette-Mail series focusing on the state of regional economies in West Virginia.

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This four-part series provides useful information on estate planning.


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Since 1978, U.S. coal operators have paid more than $7 billion in production taxes meant to fund the cleanup of mine sites that were abandoned before the nation implemented strict reclamation rules. But today, more than $3 billion of mine sites that threaten public safety remain unreclaimed. The federal Abandoned Mine Land program has not met its goals in large part because regulators diverted more than $1.3 billion in AML money to other projects.

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Fifteen years after opening its first store here, Wal-Mart has become part of the fabric of West Virginia, with 33 stores and 11,450 employees. Depending on your outlook, Wal-Mart is either a great American success story or the scourge of small-town USA. Read about it in this four-part series.

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This three-part series provides aging West Virginians and their families with information on the financial implications of the golden years. Job retraining for seniors, long-term health care options and ways to make a fixed income a little more flexible will be explored.

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Small pockets of ethnicity still dwell in the hills and valleys of the Mountain State. Some are about to disappear. Others are going strong. This series of articles seeks to tell their tales.

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This Gazette investigation focuses on methadone, a drug that not only can kill pain, but also can kill the person taking it, even at the recommended dosage.

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The bodies of 12 men were found Jan. 3 in the Sago Mine in Upshur County. Here is a compilation of the ongoing coverage of this tragic tale.

To see transcripts of the Sago mine interviews, please visit http://www.wvgazette.com/static/sago/

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Third Places is a series that highlights important places where communities gather. When youre not at home or at work, you may be in a third place, a comfortable gathering spot where new friendships are made.

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The Sago Mine disaster drew widespread attention to safety problems in the nation's coal mines. Why do miners continue to die on the job? What are the government and the coal industry doing about it?

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By nearly all measures, West Virginians have the worst dental health in the nation. Find out why.
Slideshow

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Predatory and illegal mortgage loans have devastated thousands of home-loving West Virginians. The Gazette-Mail tells you how it happens, visits with elderly West Virginians trapped in such mortgages and lets you hear from people who are trying to do something about it.
Click here to listen to the accompanying West Virginia Public Radio report.

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Poisonings -- mostly drug overdoses -- now kill more Americans than guns. The fastest growing killers aren't cocaine or heroin, they're prescription pain drugs -- and West Virginians are more likely to die of overdoses than people in any other state.
Read about this dilemma in a joint Gazette/West Virginia Public Broadcasting investigation.
Hear Kim Garner tell her story

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Are West Virginia's forests really growing faster and faster? Or are loggers cutting down more trees than they should? Can the state really sustain continued growth in the timber industry? And are we doing enough to educate landowners about managing their forests? Find out in a special series on the state's forests, The Forest for the Trees, originally published in a series of installments from September through December 1996. To read this series, click here.

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Since West Virginia enacted its new welfare rules, 2,100 welfare recipients have been cut off. Some have found jobs, some have been placed in training jobs, and still others have had to cut back on college hours to comply with tougher work requirements. Explore the facets of West Virginia's version of welfare reform in this seven-part series by clicking here.

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In 1997, a national environmental group charged that pollution from the poultry industry had turned the Potomac River into one of the 10 most endangered rivers in North America. More recently, fingers pointed at poultry farm runoff as the cause of a toxic microbe outbreak that killed fish in two Maryland streams. West Virginia officials say the state's chicken business is doing plenty to protect the environment. Are they right? Or is poultry really polluting the Potomac? Find out, in this special series published in October 1998.

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The state Workers' Compensation Fund was formed in 1913, and in that first year, it paid out $300,000 more than it took in. Today the deficit exceeds $2 billion, just shy of the state's entire general revenue budget for last year. How could such a tremendous debt be created? Who is responsible? Who will pay the astronomical cost, and could it be all West Virginia wage earners? Find out in this four-part series by clicking here.

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Over the past few decades, video poker machines have become as standard as pool tables in West Virginia's taverns. Today, they can be found in restaurants, gas stations, even some grocery stores. The dirty little secret - and not a very well kept one - is that most of the machines pay off, illegally. How did this get started? How much money goes untaxed? What are lawmakers prepared to do? Find out in this seven-part series by clicking here.

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West Virginia has a long, sad tradition of political corruption. So, how does West Virginia compare to other states when requiring disclosures from politicians about potential conflicts of interest? How comprehensive are the state's reporting requirements for lobbyists? How have campaign contributions and lobbyist spending affected legislation? Find out in this series.

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Poverty ties in with all kinds of social ills - low grades in school, poor nutrition, violence, even asthma and shorter life expectancy. But poverty is about more than money. Poor people can't get at the opportunities and services middle-class Americans take for granted. So the poor often sink into a cycle of day-to-day survival, which often ensures that their children will be poor too. In West Virginia, that's one of every five people. This year's Kids Count Databook compiled a list of opportunities and services from which poor families are often excluded. Inspired by the Kids Count report, the Gazette chose five of these topics to explore in coming weeks in the Community section.

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Gazette reporters are analyzing the issues, records and platforms of the candidates for governor in this ongoing series. These stories will explain where the candidates stand on issues ranging from the environment to welfare issues to tort reform and more. Find out what the candidates say, and what they've actually done. This site also includes biographies of the candidates and links to additional information.

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Kanawha County is suffering an exodus of people, and the population drain seems to be getting worse. Where are they going, and why are they leaving? Putnam County is growing, but almost 80 percent of the increase comes at Kanawha County's expense. That growth is slowing down as flat land becomes more scarce and houses more expensive. "Valley on the Move" looks beyond the anecdotes and uses data from the IRS to show where people are moving and how much money they take with them.

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Doctors inWest Virginia say a "medical malpractice crisis" threatens the state's doctors. Rising insurance rates are driving them to retire early, limit their practices and even leave the state, they contend. Doctors insurers blame the "frequency and severity" of mostly "meritless" lawsuits filed against doctors in the Mountain State. Lawyers say patients deserve compensation when negligent doctors harm them. Who really pays the high price of medical malpractice? This three-day investigative series digs beneath the rhetoric to examine the malpractice climate in West Virginia. Are doctors fleeing the state? Why have insurance rates increased? Are lawsuits to blame? Get some answers from this series.

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In some ways, it's hard to believe it's been a year. Then again, it seems like a lifetime since the morning that everything changed in America. To reflect on the year since Sept. 11, 2001, and the challenges to come, the Gazette offers a variety of local stories anchored in the tumultuous state of the nation and world. Issues of our safety, our preparedness, our anger, our sorrow trail through the stories. In addition, readers were asked to recount where they were and how they felt on that fateful day, and they responded generously.

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The Mountain State is criss-crossed with all-terrain-vehicle trails. The four-wheel machines are popular among hunters, farmers and those looking for an exciting ride over the state's rugged terrain. But there is a dark side to the ATV proliferation -- an inordinate number of deaths, particularly among West Virginia's children. Why is this happening? Are legislators prepared to pass safety laws after years of debate? And what about the parents and siblings left behind? Their stories provide the framework for this week-long series of articles tracing West Virginia's trail of tears.

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"Insurance used to be the thing that stood between people and huge health care bills. Now insurance itself is another huge bill. Or it's just unaffordable. And if you don't have it these days, every day you get up and risk financial disaster." --Sharon Carte, Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP)director. One in four working-age West Virginians is without health insurance. More than 60 percent of uninsured West Virginians have jobs. In the coming months, the Charleston Gazette will explore the reasons why West Virginia's health insurance prices are particularly high. We will introduce you to the people who are uninsured, the people who are teetering on the edge, and the people who are trying to do something about it.

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Three years ago, the state started an ambitious program, West Virginia Wheels, to lease used cars to thousands of welfare recipients so they could get to jobs. But West Virginia's poorest citizens didn't get the safe, reliable vehicles the state had promised. Instead, many people wound up with dangerous clunkers while used car dealers made millions. What went wrong? Find out more in "Taken for a Ride," an ongoing Gazette investigation.

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Jerry Mezzatesta was one of West Virginia's most powerful politicians. But Mezzatesta's 18-year reign in the state Legislature came to an abrupt end last year. In a series of articles, Gazette reporter Eric Eyre exposed Mezzatesta's lies and abuses, one after another, until the affair culminated with criminal sentences for Mezzatesta and his wife. Earlier this year, the stories won a first place award from the Education Writers Association, and an Investigative Reporters and Editors Medal, the journalism group's top prize for investigative reporting in America. Here's a sampling of Eyre's stories.

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