Buffalo Creek: Remembering the Disaster

Date Written by Jason Keeling on February 26, 2011

Aerial view of Buffalo Creek aftermath. - The Herald-Dispatch - File PhotoHistory is filled with tragic events. Moments characterized by pain, the loss of lives, and human malice or error. These instances compel the public’s attention; they lead us to pause, empathize, and reflect on what’s happened.

But over time, we tend to go about our day-to-days and forget, while those people impacted quietly rebuild their worlds. As for the rest of us, the least we can do is remember, and perhaps be moved to help right a few wrongs.

Hell On Earth

Feb. 26, 1972, several communities throughout Logan County experienced hell on earth. After the failure of a coal waste impoundment, 132 million gallons of black liquid slurry ripped across the land, destroying most everything in its path, killing 125 individuals, leaving over 1,000 people injured, 4,000 homeless, and causing $50 million in property damage given the destruction of over 500 homes.

Denying our past is no way to establish a better future, and with this in mind, let’s solemnly remember victims of the Buffalo Creek flood.

An Age-Old Pattern

Observe the below records to discover some unsettling details, such as tepid government oversight of the dam prior to its failure, the minimal restitution paid by the responsible company and allowed by state leaders, the pittance of a settlement received by survivors, and the subsequent psychological distress experienced within the Buffalo Creek communities.

These troubling facts are part of an age-old pattern in West Virginia and Appalachia, whereby industrial endeavors are valued above people and places. Even today, some of our prominent political figures seem to be working against environmental protection efforts intended to further shield citizens from harm.

It’s important to remember Buffalo Creek, to recognize the lost, recount the grave costs, and be reminded of our responsibility to promote economic, social and environmental justice.

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West Virginia State Archives: Buffalo Creek

Charleston Gazette, 1997 Series: Voices of Buffalo Creek

Herald-Dispatch: Photo Gallery - The Buffalo Creek Flood

Mimi Pickering film: “Buffalo Creek - An Act of God” |� Excerpt

American Minor song: “Buffalo Creek” |� Lyrics

- Photo Credits: The Herald-Dispatch

5 Responses to “Buffalo Creek: Remembering the Disaster”

  1. Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher said:

    Really well done. Thank you for posting this. I’ve been discovering some historic photos over at westvirginiaville.com, and looking at the faces of our people as they strive to connect with each other and the environment in some cases is very intense and something worth studying.

    The bottom photo you posted says so much….the body language, the expression, the angle, the ground. Sometimes the cliche holds true about pictures saying hundreds of words.

    Thought-provoking, direct, and fair. And appreciated.

  2. Alex Morgado said:

    Great post. One of my earliest assignments at the Gazette many years ago, was creating an informational graphic highlighting details of this tragedy.

    I think it goes without saying, after hearing the stories, seeing the photos + talking to people who were there after the water subsided, it’s impossible to keep the horrific scenario from playing out in your head any time you hear (or see) the name “Buffalo Creek.”

  3. Tim Bradford said:

    In fourth grade a new student arrived in early March. Mrs. Drennen told the class that his family had lost everything in the Buffalo Creek flood. She asked each of us to give him 2 sheets of paper so he could do his school work. I still remember his sad face. He looked so solemn and scared. It was only after we were adults that I knew the full story. He had lost his brother in the flood.

  4. Mike Kiser said:

    And now, some 40 years after, the people of WV are willing to elect a Senator, who claims to want to protect the coal ‘industry’ from federal regulation, and who states she will protect her state and her ‘family’, one of which was the Governor when the Buffalo Creek disaster occurred. He sold out to the coal companies at the expense of the miners. It’s just another example of selling out to the company store. How quickly we forget thanks to outside money buying cheap flyers and misleading tv ads.

  5. Mike Kiser said:

    I apologize if this seems to be trying to politicize this, but I do remember this disaster while growing up in South Charleston, and I remember how it affected me. I lost a cousin who lived in Robinette because of this. I had seen him only a week before - on his way down to attend a birthday party. We were close, and my high school took up collections of food and other supplies to be delivered to the area. He loved the WV hills, and was an early advocate of protecting those hills and hollows. I am deeply saddened that those folks were largely forgotten. I still have a hard time comprehending the total lack of concern that the Moore administration had for the victims. And it’s something that, though I have come to accept, still cannot forgive.

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