Sunday, April 1, 2012

Buffalo Creek Hollow. Negligent strip mining: More lives lost to Massey energy

Buffalo Creek
In the days preceding February 26, 1972, rain fell almost continuously, although experts later claimed this was typical for late winter weather in the area. Buffalo Mining officials, concerned about the condition of the highest dam, measured water levels every two hours the night of the twenty-fifth. Although a Pittston official in the area was alerted to the increasing danger, the residents of the hollow were not informed. The company sent away two deputy sheriffs, who had been dispatched to assist with potential evacuations. Despite the lack of warning from company officials, some residents sensed the danger and moved to higher ground.Buffalo Creek
Downstream from site of former Dam No. 3
Looking downstream near the former site of Dam No. 3
Just prior to 8:00 a.m. on February 26, heavy-equipment operator Denny Gibson discovered the water had risen to the crest of the impoundment and the dam was "real soggy." At 8:05 a.m., the dam collapsed. The water obliterated the other two impoundments and approximately 132 million gallons of black waste water rushed through the narrow Buffalo Creek hollow.
In a matter of minutes, 125 were dead, 1,100 injured, and over 4,000 left homeless.Rushing Water in hollow
Pile of vehicles.One thousand cars and trucks were destroyed.
The flood demolished 502 houses and 44 mobiles homes and damaged 943 houses and mobile homes. Property damage was estimated at $50 million.Destruction of houses.
Wave of waterThe 15- to 20-foot black wave of water gushed at an average of 7 feet per second and destroyed one town after another. A resident of Amherstdale commented that before the water reached her town, "There was such a cold stillness. There was no words, no dogs, no nothing. It felt like you could reach out and slice the stillness." -- quote from Everything in Its Path, by Kai T. Erikson
Another resident commented on the rushing tide, "This water, when it came down through here, it acted real funny. It would go this way on this side of the hill and take a house out, take one house out of all the rows, and then go back the other way. It would just go from one hillside to the other." -- quote from Everything in Its Path, by Kai T. EriksonHouses
Junction of Buffalo Creek and the Guyandotte River at Man,
Junction of Buffalo Creek and the Guyandotte River at Man, 1997
[Photo by Greg Clark]

The flood water first emptied into the Guyandotte River at Man at 10:00 a.m. By 11:00, all of the flood water had poured into the Guyandotte and virtually everything in its path was gone.

Buffalo Creek
Logan County's Buffalo Creek shares its name with at least 9 other state streams. On November 20, 1968, an explosion at a Consolidation Coal Company mine along Buffalo Creek at Farmington, in the northern part of the state, killed 78. Buffalo Creek in Logan County was also no stranger to disaster. On February 12, 1958, a slate fall at an Amherst Coal Company mine at Lundale killed 6 and, on December 12, 1968, a fire at a Buffalo Mining Company mine at nearby Lyburn killed 3.
Buffalo Creek, Farmington explosion
Smoke from the Lewellyn portal of the Consol No. 9 mine at Farmington [Photo from the West Virginia Department of Mines]
Aerial view of 3 dams
Reconstructed view of the 3 dams above Saunders, taken 27 February 1972, from Geological Survey Circular 667, West Virginia's Buffalo Creek Flood, 7 [Photo by the West Virginia Department of Highways]
Buffalo Creek consists of 3 branches. As part of its strip mining operations, the Buffalo Mining Company, a subsidiary of the Pittston Coal Company, began dumping gob -- mine waste consisting of mine dust, shale, clay, low-quality coal, and other impurities -- into the Middle Fork branch as early as 1957. Buffalo Mining constructed its first gob dam, or impoundment, near the mouth of Middle Fork in 1960. Six years later, it added a second dam, 600 feet upstream. By 1968, the company was dumping more gob another 600 feet upstream. By 1972, this third dam ranged from 45 to 60 feet in height. The dams and coal mine waste had turned Middle Fork into a series of black pools.
In 1967, a break in one of the dams caused slight flooding in the hollow. State officials requested a few minor alterations to the impoundment. In February 1971, Dam No. 3 failed, but Dam No. 2 halted the water. The state cited Pittston for violations but failed to follow up with inspections. Pittston, which had developed a reputation for poor safety practices, was cited for over 5,000 safety violations at its mines nationally in 1971. It challenged each of the violations and paid only $275 of the $1.3 million levied in fines. By 1972, Pittston was the largest independent coal producer in the country and ranked second in the number of fatal and non-fatal accidents.

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1 comment:

  1. Warnings should have been sent out to all workers and all nearby residents in times like this. Even though workers nowadays have MSHA Certification training, giving them a heads up will still help avoid a lot of injuries and accidents.