Historian John Alexander Williams once wrote: "In West Virginia, history often repeats itself. Perhaps the fact that our history is so painful explains why it is so poorly understood."
Taking these words to heart, we set out to remember and re-examine the 1972 Buffalo Creek disaster on its 25th anniversary.
The disaster had such far-reaching effects, we wanted to approach it from several different angles. Choosing a victim, a lawyer, a psychologist, an environmental inspector, and a rescue worker, the staff unlocked important lessons, vivid memories and a lot of tears.
Interviewers were somewhat surprised at the range of emotions displayed all these years later, but as we soon learned, 25, 50 or however many years later, those who were touched directly or indirectly by the horrible black waters will never forget. And many will never forgive.
In addition, we wanted to examine the chances of history repeating itself. Coal-waste impoundments several times larger than Buffalo Creek still dot Appalachia, particularly West Virginia, but new laws, brought on by Buffalo Creek, are now on the books. The experts say the people in the coalfields are safe, but for many years prior to the flood, those same words rang through the hollow known to history books, law journals and environmental studies as Buffalo Creek.
Sunday, Feb. 23
The disaster revisited; the legal battle.
Monday, Feb. 24
Dr. Robert Kerns discusses "disaster syndrome."
Tuesday, Feb. 25
Environmental inspector Jack Spadaro recounts the disaster investigation.
Weds., Feb. 26
Carol Hoosier, who lost her parents in the raging water, tells of the fateful day.
Thursday, Feb. 27
Nelson Sorah, then a reporter and National Guardsman, recalls the cleanup.
Friday, Feb. 28
Lawyer Gerald Stern, who won the first case against the coal company, recounts what it took to win.
Saturday, March 1
Gazette Editor Jim Haught recalls the puzzling decisions of mining superintendent Steve Dasovich and Gov. Arch Moore.
Sunday, March 2
Buffalo Creek today; the coal-waste and earthen dams that still dot West Virginia. Could it happen again?
Tuesday, March 4
Editorial: Buffalo Creek:
Never forget disaster
The Project Team
Reporters: Jack McCarthy, Maryclaire Dale, Sandy Wells, Ken Ward Jr., Rick Steelhammer, James A. Haught, Robert J. Byers
Photographers: Lawrence Pierce, F. Brian Ferguson, Chris Dorst
Graphics: Alex Morgado
Project editor: Robert J. Byers
Design editor: Charles Reilly
Web editor: Dan Radmacher
Sunday, Feb. 23:
A man-made disaster
Twenty-five years ago, a dam washed away the lives of 125 people
Families cannot forget the day when their worlds were turned upside down.
Dennis and Margie Prince ran toward the hillside when they saw a roof careening down Buffalo Creek the morning of Feb. 26, 1972.
Monday, Feb. 24:
Psychologist recalls the feelings of the survivors
In the wake of the Buffalo Creek catastrophe, psychiatrists, psychologists and pastors converged on the ravaged valley to help survivors cope with the emotional havoc that follows enormous tragedy.
In 1972, when the Buffalo Creek disaster occurred, Mount Hope native Jack Spadaro was a 23-year-old engineer teaching at West Virginia University's School of Mines.
Wednesday, Feb. 26:
'People felt guilty because they were alive'
Survivor speaks of losing her parents
At first, Carol Hoosier said she did not want to discuss the Buffalo Creek disaster and what it did to her family.
Thursday, Feb. 27:
Buffalo Creek devastation 'indescribable'
Nelson Sorah saw Buffalo Creek through the eyes of both a reporter and a National Guard officer.
Twenty-five years to the day after he and his family scrambled up a Logan County hillside to escape the killing waters of Buffalo Creek, images of the man-made disaster remain vivid for Delegate Arley Johnson, D-Cabell.
Friday, Feb. 28:
Suit against Pittston broke legal ground
Memphis native Gerald Stern worked as a lawyer in the civil rights movement after law school, then joined Arnold and Porter, a top firm in Washington, D.C. He was 35, assigned to the firm's pro bono section, and a little bored when the Buffalo Creek case came his way.
Saturday, Mar. 1:
Decisions on disaster puzzling
A quarter-century ago this week, the world got a sickening lesson in what an unsupervised industry could do to defenseless families.
Sunday, Mar. 2:
Buffalo Creek: Changes lie just below the surface
PARDEE - Stray dogs roam the barren upper reaches of Buffalo Creek. Peering from beneath the shelter of the long-deserted tipple, they offer a slow, wary wag to cars passing along the narrow road.
Coal dams still loom over W.Va.
State has 232 coal waste dams, but safety is much improved, most of the experts say
SHARPLES - At first glance from the valley floor, it looks like any other Logan County hill.
SALEM - The concrete spillway on the Lower Salem Dam is riddled with cracks. Steel support beams push out from the sides of the walls, which bend from the weight of surrounding earth.