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SharePrint Media File

Type: Video

Series Title West Virginia: A Film History

Filmmaker Mark Samels

Company West Virginia Humanities Council

Format DVD


Narrator: On the morning of February 26, 1972, a gob-pile dam at the head of Buffalo Creek in Logan County collapsed after a week of heavy rain. Within seconds one-hundred and thirty-two million gallons of water rushed downstream.

The flood roared for seventeen miles, destroying cars, buildings and power lines, leaving four thousand of the valley’s five thousand residents homeless and killing 125 people.

Richard Grimes: I was down the day after the disaster and I’ve never seen anything like it. There was a family there where only the children survived. There were other places where just the father survived or just the mother survived. The community was trying to put itself back together saying okay put these two children over here. She can cook for them and he can cook for this boy here and everything. Maybe today we would have a smoother way of doing that, but here the community was putting itself back together.

Narrator: National Guard units arrived to clean up. Governor Arch Moore, who said West Virginia’s image had taken a terrible beating from the media, closed Buffalo Creek to reporters.

Governor Moore: …Yes, it could happen again.

Narrator: The owner of the dam, the Pittston Company, claimed the disaster was an act of God.

Kai Erikson: The people of Buffalo Creek were outraged because they expected more from the coal company itself. That they would come to your aid like a good neighbor does. What the coal company did was to kind of gather behind a wall of lawyers and a wall of legalisms, and wall of statements that made no sense to anybody on Buffalo Creek. You would meet up and down Buffalo Creek, in those days, people who would say, if only they had come to me and asked if I needed a cup of coffee. If only they had offered my wife a dress. If only they had said, do you have a blanket? Are you cold? Can we make you warm? But nobody came. Nobody did anything.

Narrator: Two years later, an official inquiry concluded Pittston had been negligent and forced the company to pay thirteen-point-five million dollars to survivors of Buffalo Creek.

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