West Virginia History January 28, 2021
by Cristy Glimpse The Devastation Of West Virginia’s Buffalo Creek Flood In This Tragic Footage From 1972
West Virginia has experienced more than her share of tragedy. And earning a place high on the list of her many terrible disasters was the Buffalo Creek Flood that occurred in February of 1972 in Logan County.
For much of West Virginia in the 20th century, coal was king. But it was not always a good, kind king. Oh, no. Especially not on February 26, 1972 in Logan County, a day that haunts many West Virginians even now, nearly five decades later. A day filled with sudden tragedy, immense loss of life, and a grief like few of us have ever known.
On that day, that fateful, rainy day in February, a coal slurry impoundment dam built by Pittston Coal Company burst, taking two other downstream dams with it. With little to no warning (four days earlier, the dam had been declared "satisfactory" by a federal safety inspection), this catastrophic dam failure unleashed 132 million gallons of black waste water on the unsuspecting coal towns below.
The resulting wave crested up to 30 feet high as it raged down Buffalo Creek Hollow. Sixteen Logan County coal towns were affected. Of the 5,000 people living in the hollow, 125 were killed, 1,121 were injured, and over 4,000 were left homeless.
The raging wall of water showed no discrimination in the lives it claimed: men, women, and children perished in the flood. At least one young one did survive, however. Kerry Albright, the "miracle baby" of the disaster, was thrown to safety just above the flood line by his desperate mother as she raced the leading edge of the torrent. Moments after hurling him from her arms, the baby's mother drowned.
The coal company, eager to shift the blame, blasphemously declared the catastrophe an "Act of God" despite the fact that the dam was clearly of inferior construction, founded not on bedrock but on coal slurry settlement. This was a slap in the face to the people of these communities, who slogged through mud and ruin to grieve at graveside service after graveside service
The government also betrayed this devastated community. Although the State of West Virginia initially sued for $100 million to help rebuild the area, the governor settled for just $1 million. Then lawyers for the plaintiffs donated a portion of their fees to the impacted communities... but that money still hasn't found its way to the people of Buffalo Creek some 50 years later.
In 1975, a documentary titled "The Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act Of Man" was released about the disaster; in 2005, this film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
The producer, Appalshop, has made excerpts from the film available on YouTube, including the one below, which features footage and photographs of the flood as well as interviews with a few of the flood's survivors.
Did you live through the Buffalo Creek Flood, or do you remember hearing about it at the time? Effects of disasters such as the Buffalo Creek Flood, or the
Monongah Mining Disaster, or any number of others West Virginians have faced linger on in memory and in life experience for generations.
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Address: Buffalo Creek, WV 25704, USA