CHARLESTON, W.Va. - After ferrying millions of travelers on the West Virginia Turnpike, the now-bypassed and shuttered Memorial Tunnel in southern Kanawha County has become an underground bunker holding some of the worst disasters known to man.
Fortunately, they are only simulations.
For the past decade, the West Virginia National Guard has used the 2,800-foot tunnel through Paint Creek Mountain as a worst-case scenario training ground for troops and first responders.
Now known as the Center for National Response, the facility has helped both military and civilian responders get as close as they can to on-the-job disaster training.
Groups from around the country are sending personnel to West Virginia to train in the facility.
"We get them from East Coast to West Coast, from New York to Seattle," said Major Gen. James Hoyer, adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard.
"In all, about 160,000 first responders have been trained by West Virginians."
Hoyer and other Guard leaders took Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, along with Rep. Nick Rahall, all D-W.Va., on a tour of the facility Monday afternoon.
The center has 10 disaster training areas. A few - such as a bunker, airplane fuselage and mountain cabin complex - are on the 10,000 acres of land surrounding the tunnel.
Inside the tunnel, the Guard has set up several staging areas for simulating several scenarios, including up to a 50-car pileup wreck complete with hazardous materials, mobile methamphetamine or other chemical labs and a functional subway station.
The subway station - which Hoyer refers to as "West Virginia's only working subway system" - includes a blast simulation that recreates the effect of an underground explosion in a major metropolitan area.
"We've had first responders from New York City who were some of the first folks in the World Trade Center come into our post-blast rubble scenario, and they tell us it's as realistic as what they encountered on 9/11," Hoyer said.
As visitors begin walking up the 2 percent grade at the south end of the tunnel, they come first to the vehicular haz-mat staging area - the facility's primary venue.
Hoyer said center trainers have worked intently over the years to make the facility as close to the real thing as possible. Some have gone to Universal Studios and Walt Disney World in Florida to receive training from movie professionals.
The Guard has an arrangement with a local salvage yard to bring in vehicles used in wreck scenarios.
They've worked with chemists to make sure simulated contamination areas are as realistic as possible. Those areas also are lined with images of some foreign country leaders and examples of each nation's writing to help responders identify where materials may have come from.
A two-story structure looks like a Main Street shop you might see at an amusement park. It can be used for training on tactical operations, with the interiors arranged in various ways to simulate different scenarios.
A man-made cave simulation about halfway through the tunnel is used to recreate ammunition compounds in Afghanistan or domestic drug hideouts.
"We can represent Tora Bora, or it could be a cave in the United States that's used for drug running," Hoyer said.
Rockefeller said the key is to test people not just on the procedures for responding to a situation, but also for the psychological stressors they may face.