Winds of Change Newsletter, February 2007 See sidebar for table of contents
Buffalo Creek Remembered
An Act of Man Leaves 125 West Virginians Dead
"I put down my toys that day. I havent played since. I was robbed of my childhood."
Patty Adkins, who survived Buffalo Creek as a child
35 years ago, on Feb. 26, 1972, coal waste dams on Buffalo Creek in Logan County failed.
One-hundred and twenty-five people died in the 132-million gallon black tidal wave that surged down the valley. In minutes, 4,000 were left homeless.
The disaster could have been prevented. The October 2000 coal sludge disaster in Martin County, Ky., could have been prevented. Sludge Safety Project is working for a ban on coal sludge dams. This must never happen again.
For detailed information on Buffalo Creek, see www.appalshop.org/buffalo/. Here are a few details from that Appalshop website:
1966: After a coal-waste dump in South-Aberfan, Wales, gave way killing 147 people, then-Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall asked the U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Mines to conduct a joint investigation of potentially dangerous slag heaps in the coal-mining sections of the United States. A USGS geologist inspected 38 dams in West Virginia, including the one on Buffalo Creek. His report stated that the Buffalo Creek dam was basically "unstable," that "the bank subject to large wash-out on north side from overflow of lake."
1967: In March, the Interior Departments Report on Conditions of 38 West Virginia Coal Waste Dams was given to the governor, senators, congressmen and local officials in southern West Virginia. Four of the dams were cited as in need of immediate repair and were fixed by coal company crews and State Highway Commission workers. Nothing else was done about inspecting other dams or correcting those listed in the report.
1968: In February, residents on Buffalo Creek feared the collapse of the dams and the refuse pile and wrote the Governor asking that he do something about it. Inspectors from the Public Service Commission and Water Resources
Division looked at the dams but no further action was taken.
1971: Dam No. 3 collapsed in February. One-half of the downstream side slumped. There was no flood, but black water bubbled up into the impoundments behind Dam No. 2. The company dumped in more coal refuse to fill in the break in the dam.
1972: At the beginning of the year, about 5,000 people lived on Buffalo Creek, representing approximately 10 percent of Logan Countys population. There were more than 1,000 working miners living on the creek and they were enjoying the relative prosperity that their $40-a-day wages provided them.
February 22, a federal mine inspector and the company safety engineer observed the dams and found conditions satisfactory.
February 25, fed by heavy rains, the water behind dam No. 3 was rising 1- or 2-inches per hour.
February 26, at 1:30 a.m. the water was only 12-inches from the dams crest and oozing through the surface of the dam.
February 26, at 8:03 a.m., Dam No. 3 failed. Dam Nos. 2 and 1 were carried away. The wall of water caused an explosion in the burning refuse pile before cascading into the valley of Buffalo Creek. It took everything in its path.
Government and coal company officials turned a deaf ear to the cries of the people on Buffalo Creek.
We must band together to amplify our voices so even those who do not want to hear our cries are forced to do so. Please lend your voice to those demanding an end to coal sludge dams and coal slurry injection.