50 Year Anniversary Of Buffalo Creek Disaster

Feb 26, 2022

Fifty years ago, a coal processing waste sludge dam operated by Pittston Coal Company gave way, releasing 125 million gallons of coal waste, killing 125 West Virginians and leaving 4,000 homeless. Pittston called the disaster "an act of God." Then-Gov. Arch Moore, father of current US Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, banned journalists from the area and said, "The only real sad part is that the state of West Virginia has taken a terrible beating that is worse than the disaster." Today, we still have over a hundred active coal sludge dams in West Virginia. Among them are the Shumate’s Branch impoundment just 400 yards upstream from the old Marsh Fork Elementary School and the Brushy Fork impoundment above the communities of Pettus and Whitesville.At 2.8 billion gallons, Shumate’s is more than 20 times the volume of the Buffalo Creek disaster. At around 8 billion gallons, Brushy Fork holds more than 60 times the volume. Brushy Fork holds the added distinction of being built over abandoned underground mines, the same way, and by the same company, as the Martin County, KY, sludge dam that broke through in 1994 and again in 2000. Brushy Fork is also adjacent to the Bee Tree mountaintop removal site, which is “inactive” for now but could resume operations, including heavy blasting, whenever the coal company, Alpha Metallurgical Resources, feels like it. But never fear! The coal company’s hired expert has assured them that, even if the underground mines collapsed, everything would be fine. And WV Dept. of Environmental Protection engineer Greg Demyan has stated that blasting next to a dam can be good for it; he googled it.Coal River Mountain Watch outreach coordinator CRMW's Junior Walk, who attended the old Marsh Fork Elementary School and lives downstream of Brushy Fork, had this to say about the 50th anniversary:

“It's been fifty years today that the Buffalo Creek coal slurry dam broke open in the head of Buffalo Creek, West Virginia. 125 people lost their lives when that muck flooded out the holler they lived in and destroyed their homes and lives. This day should be marked by mourning here in West Virginia; however, the vast majority of people, even here, have no idea about the true toll that resource extraction has taken on this land and the people who call it home. Today there are more hollers and communities in more danger than in 1972 when the blood of the people of Buffalo Creek was used to grease the wheels of the capitalist system. The largest earthen dam in the western hemisphere sits in the head of a holler above Eunice, Pettus, and Whitesville, West Virginia. It holds back close to 8 billion gallons of the same slurry waste that ripped through Buffalo Creek fifty years ago. It's also taller than Hoover Dam and constructed out of dirt and rock, much like the dam at Buffalo Creek. It is my sincere hope that my family and neighbors don't end up at the bottom of all that slurry, but, much like in 1972, it is still a real everyday possibility.”

The dead and missing are listed here. May they rest in peace. https://archive.wvculture.org/history/buffcreek/mem.html