Massey Valley Fill Disaster
July 19, 2002
Photos extracted from video taken by Bob Gates firstname.lastname@example.org
Imagine sleeping restlessly, if at all, any night it rains. Imagine getting up every half hour to check that the creek near your home isn't rising swiftly and running dark with sediment and debris. Imagine wondering each time it rains if you are about to lose your possessions and even your life.
That's what life is like for residents who live close by valley fills and sediment ponds at mountaintop removal (MTR) operations. Many residents wonder if their communities will be the next hit by flooding, flooding brought on by hard rains and made worse because of mountaintop removal.
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On July 19, an early morning thunderstorm (3 to 3 1/2 inches during a three-hour period) brought disaster to the little community of Winding Shoals Hollow at Lyburn in Logan Co., WV. Huge, rain-saturated chunks of a giant valley fill at Bandmill Coal Corp., owned by Massey Energy, cleaved away from the valley fill and crashed into a sediment pond below.
Massey brought big equipment to the valley fill to begin cleaning up. Note in the foreground where the tidal wave of sediment and debris-laden water cascaded over the side of the sediment pond's dam.
The falling debris completely filled the sediment pond, causing it to overflow and send a tidal wave of sediment-laden water churning down Winding Shoals Hollow, destroying two homes, damaging about ten others and hurtling 8-10 vehicles downstream. No one was killed, though there were some narrow escapes.
Massey's valley fill (pictured above on July 19,2002), like all MTR valley fills was created when rubble from former mountaintops--that were blasted away to mine the underlying coal--was pushed into a nearby valley, burying any streams that were there. According to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), this particular fill is about 900 feet high and 2,000 feet long. There are sediment ponds at the base of valley fills that are supposed to catch and settle sediment creeping off the fills.
To get an idea of the immense scale of this, and most MTR valley fills, imagine Person A standing at the edge of the sediment pond looking at Person B standing at the toe, or base, of the valley fill.
Toe of Massey's Bandmill Coal Corp. valley fill near Lyburn, WV.
Person B standing at the toe would appear only about an inch tall to Person A standing at the pond. If Person B were to look up and see Person C standing at the top of the valley fill, C would appear only an inch or so tall.
Top of the valley fill, with some sign of fallen chunks
Coal companies are supposed to keep these sediment ponds cleaned out, but the DEP had recently written up Massey for failing to clean out this pond in a timely manner. The violations were serious enough that DEP could have shut down the operation before the disaster occurred.
Below are pictures of the flooded community of Lyburn, which lies about a quarter mile downstream from the sediment pond. Be sure to check the sidebar for news stories about the disaster. Many thanks to filmmaker Bob Gates who 'grabbed" these video images for our website-OVEC was on the scene, but with a non-functioning camera.
Above: three pictures of one of the destroyed homes.
Clean up operations included scraping and spraying all the mud on the road and in people's yards into the already brutalized stream-which flows into the streams and rivers that eventually make their way into the Ohio River. If you live downstream, you may be getting a little taste of mountaintop removal when you drink