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The disaster affected Logan County, West Virginia. The dams were built on Buffalo Creek in the Buffalo Creek Valley. The dam failure affected sixteen towns: Saunders, Pardee, Lorado, Craneco, Lundale, Stowe, Crites, Latrobe, Robinette, Amherstdale, Becco, Fanco, Braeholm, Accoville, Crown, and Kistler. Victims from these towns started the Citizens Commission. Most of the facts concerning the dam failure, physical property damage, interviews of workers, and psychological evaluations of the victims took place in these towns.

In a calculated move by Stern, the charges by the Citizens Commission were brought against Pittston Coal Company in federal court instead of against Buffalo Creek Mining in state court. Many negotiation meetings took place in Manhattan, headquarters for Pittston Coal Company, and in Washington, DC, where the law firm of Arnold and Porter had its offices. The decision to go after Pittston in federal courts instead of suing the previous mine owner, Buffalo Creek Mining, in state courts seemed to be the right decision considering the perceived corruption in the state judicial system. The Governor had tight control over the state's judicial system as he had appointed many judges to their positions. The Governor was largely seen by the Charleston Gazette to favor mining companies, and in 1990 he pleaded guilty to five felony charges of corruption including bribery, obstruction of justice and illegal campaigning. In 1990 he also confessed to taking an unknown monetary payment from Pittston Coal for the settlement of the West Virginia's case against Pittston. The decision to go to federal court was to Pittston's disadvantage because this meant the focus was on them rather than on Buffalo Creek Mining.

The Citizens Commission found support in the local papers including the Charleston Gazette. The Charleston Gazette caught the publics interest in the disaster, which eventually led to Arnold and Porter taking the case as pro bono work. The media attention also helped apply pressure to Governor Moore, who was up for re-election, to halt his efforts to build a super highway through the disaster area using federal money earmarked for disaster relief. Most of the media attacks stayed at the local level, and the management of Pittston was sheltered from them in Manhattan and did not feel pressured to act. Pittston also was the largest coal producer in the country and had recently secured a major long-term coal contract with the Japanese. Pittston's customers did not have the flexibility or the choice to pressure Pittston into acting.