(A dog sits in Buffalo Creek hollow in the aftermath of the 1972 coal-slurry dam disaster in this photo by longtime Gazette photographer Lawrence Pierce)
Thirty-eight years ago today, a coal-slurry dam on Buffalo Creek in Logan County, W.Va., broke. A wall of water and coal waste — 30 feet high and 550 feet across — burst from the impoundment, and rushed more than 15 miles down the hollow, toward the confluence of Buffalo Creek and the Guyandotte River at Man.
The disaster killed 125 people, injured 1,000 and left 4,000 homeless.
Here’s part of “Disaster on Buffalo Creek: A Citizens’ Report on the Criminal Negligence in a West Virginia Mining Community,” which we posted online back in 1997 as part of Voices of Buffalo Creek, a series to mark the 25th anniversary of this terrible disaster:
For the Buffalo Creek disaster, like the recent coal-mine fire tragedies at Farmington, West Virginia, and at Hyden, Kentucky, could have been prevented — it need not have happened. Clearly and simply, people living downstream from the Buffalo Mining Company’s coal refuse dam at Saunders were the victims of gross negligence.
In Appalachian — sometimes known as “the last white colony of western civilization” — absentee owners of the region’s vast energy resources and their subservient homebred and imported politicians time and again are to blame for mass death and destruction. Time and again, those most at fault throw up smokescreens to obscure their responsibility .
There is a basic question raised anew by Buffalo Creek, the latest assault by the coal operators in their long slaughterhouse in death, injury and disease: Whether the people of Appalachia and West Virginia can any longer afford this senseless destruction of their lives, their land, and their democratic institutions; or whether the ownership and operation of coal mines should be brought under democratic control to benefit all the people. All to clearly the tragedy of Buffalo Creek has torn away the mask, revealing the ugly truth that powerful coal interests dominate the government, the environment, and the West Virginia way of life to the detriment of all citizens. Discussion and action are needed now to transform King Coal, the tyrant, into Citizen Coal, the servant of all — before and not after another Buffalo Creek disaster.