February 26, 1972: Coal Mining Dam Collapses in Buffalo Creek

Feb 26, 2019

Credit e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / via Earl Benton

 On February 26, 1972, a coal mining dam collapsed at the head of Buffalo Creek in Logan County. Over the next three hours, 132-million gallons of black water raged down the hollow. The deluge obliterated or badly damaged 17 communities and claimed the lives of 125 people, including entire families. The disaster also injured 1000 people and left 80 percent of Buffalo Creek’s residents homeless.

The collapsed dam was owned by a division of the Pittston Coal Company. Officials with Pittston attributed the flood to heavy rains, calling it “an act of God.” However, state and federal investigations pinned the blame squarely on Pittston, saying that company officials had “shown flagrant disregard for the safety of residents.” Survivors and the victims’ family members reached an out-of-court settlement with Pittston that averaged $13,000 per person after legal fees. West Virginia filed its own suit against the company. It was settled by Governor Arch Moore before he left office in 1977.

The Buffalo Creek Flood eventually led to new state and federal laws regulating dam construction and maintenance. It remains one of the country’s worst mining-related disasters.