Historical - Logan County was a coal mining county, which was prone to boom and bust cycles of the coal industry. Through the 1950s and 1960s, the county had a decreasing population as well as high unemployment rates due to the increase of mechanized coal production. On February 26, 1972, after three days and 3.7 inches of rain, a not uncommon amount of rain in February, dam number three failed, giving way in approximately 132 million gallons of water. The dam failure left 125 people dead and 1,121 injured, as well as leaving 4,000 people homeless. At the time of the dam collapse, about 30% of the population of Logan County lived under the poverty line, more than twice the state average. The level of water that was released because of the dam failure was 40 times greater than 50-year flood levels. Sixteen towns that were affected were Saunders, Pardee, Lofado, Craneco, Lundale, Stowe, Crites, Latrobe, Robinette, Amherstdale, Becco, Fanco, Braeholm, Accoville, Crown, and Kistler. There was never an official warning to the towns located in Buffalo Creek that the dam could fail although there were rumors that the dam was in danger of overflowing and some people did evacuate to higher ground. In response to the disaster, the Governor tried to justify his proposed super highway as a way to rejuvenate Logan County.
Plaintiffs - The Citizens Commission charged that Pittston Coal Company's operational procedure was "reckless," and 625 individuals sued the company for punitive damages and won a settlement of $13.5 million from the lawsuit in June of 1972. In June 1974, a second class-action lawsuit, which represented 348 children, was settled for $4.8 million. In these suits, lawyers emphasized psychological trauma to the victims and improper construction of the coal waste dam as well as the unnecessary loss of life. The Citizens Commission heavily criticized Pittston Coal Company for a lack of concern for the citizens of Buffalo Creek and noted that if the company had shown compassion before and after the disaster, the company could have avoided litigation.
Pittston Coal Company - Immediately following the dam failure, Pittston Coal Company attributed the disaster to heavy flooding caused by rain and runoff from snow. The company claimed the dam failed because of abnormal amounts of flooding and saw it as a natural disaster, an "act of God," making it not liable. The mine operator had monitored the water level behind the dam through the night and at 7 a.m. had determined that the dam was not in danger of collapsing. He did take a precautionary measure of ordering a bulldozer driver to cut an overfill path for the dam in order to relieve some pressure. However, by the time the bulldozer arrived, the floodwaters had broken through the dam. Pittston maintained that it practiced methods of operation similar to those of other mine companies in West Virginia.
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