Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Buffalo Creek Flood Feb 26,1972


Buffalo Creek consists of about 16 small communities. A few of them are Lorado, Becco, Latrobe, Saunders, Pardee, Stowe, Crites, Kistler, Braeholm....... Buffalo Creek winds it way down thru these communities and empties into the Guyandotte River at the edge of the town of Man.
On a rainy Saturday morning, February 26, 1972, 125 people; men, women and children lost their lives in the Buffalo Creek Flood Disaster. About 1,000 homes were destroyed and 4,000 people were left homeless.
After days of rain, a sludge pond which was owned by the Pittston Coal Company, burst and released millions of gallons of black water upon the residents of Buffalo Creek. The wall of water that came rushing down Buffalo Creek contained coal and mud and was said to have been 30 feet in height. Tales of horror are told by the survivors.
As the black water raced it's way down Buffalo Creek, people scrambled up mountain sides to safety. Some rode the top of their houses as the force of the water picked the houses up from their foundations. Telephone poles and railroad tracks were ripped from the ground and left broken or twisted. Houses were moved and thrown against each other. The wreckage left behind was devastating.
Man High School was set up as a disaster relief area. I was in the 10th grade. We were bussed to Logan High School for classes. Logan students attended in the morning hours and Man students attended in the afternoon. I can't remember learning very much during that time. I think we, (the students and the teachers) were all in "shock". I lost three classmates to that flood. And even tho, I didn't know them very well, I can recall their faces even now.
Some of the survivors returned to Buffalo Creek and built new houses and resumed their lives. Others couldn't. I recall one man who moved to Bruno who had lost his wife and two of his children to the flood. He brought with him the three children who survived. It was reported in the local paper that he had been in the flood waters and was holding his two-year old daughter when the water "ripped" her out of his arms. He sued Pittston Coal Co. and received a large amount of money. But could this money make up for the loss of his wife and two children or take away the memory of how he must have felt as the water took his baby out of his arms? And this is only "one" of countless heartbreaking stories of survivors.
It was needless for those 125 people to have died in such a way. And it was due to the irresponsibility of the coal company. As much as those 125 people were "victims", the survivors are the "living victims". Their lives were changed forever on that day.
It took years to "rebuild" Buffalo Creek at a cost of $100 million to the state. Today it looks nothing like it did 25 years ago. The disaster brought to attention the need for new laws to be enacted for how coal waste should be disposed of.
A memorial has been built at Kistler, WV. A monument was erected listing the names of the persons who lost their lives on that terrible day. A memorial service is held every year on that day to remember those who perished there in 1972. Today, Wednesday, February 26, 1997 marks the 25th anniversary.