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Discarded tires and metal parts are mixed with cinder blocks and charred branches, making for an eerie mood in the silent morning. I soon head back east to what was once Centralia’s main avenue, taking a look at the house of the town’s last mayor, Carl Womer, who died in May 2014.I lift a small rock from the ground and it’s so hot I have to drop it. The house still stands on a recessed side street, but with its deed held by the state since it was taken by eminent domain in 1992, the property is bound to be destroyed in the near future.
A few buildings remain, most of them old row houses deprived of their neighbors, needing brick retainers to help them stand up without adjoining structures. Everyone else left after a long-lasting mine fire rendered the place uninhabitable, resulting in a government-mandated evacuation.I stop the car at the corner of Locust Avenue and South Street, near the Saint Ignatius Cemetery, steps from the landfill where it all started.I walk to the end of the street in the damp and cold air. Sulfurous, it comes from the bowels of the earth – the pungent smell of burning coal.The road is dark, sharp and slippery, winding through naked trees and into the wintry Pennsylvanian mist.Thick layers of clouds are concealing the hills, black rocks and silver birches lingering in the morning’s dim blue haze.