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Buffalo Creek
Logan County's Buffalo Creek shares its name with at least 9 other state streams. On November 20, 1968, an explosion at a Consolidation Coal Company mine along Buffalo Creek at Farmington, in the northern part of the state, killed 78. Buffalo Creek in Logan County was also no stranger to disaster. On February 12, 1958, a slate fall at an Amherst Coal Company mine at Lundale killed 6 and, on December 12, 1968, a fire at a Buffalo Mining Company mine at nearby Lyburn killed 3.

Buffalo Creek, Farmington explosion
Smoke from the Lewellyn portal of the Consol No. 9 mine at Farmington [Photo from the West Virginia Department of Mines]

Aerial view of 3 dams
Reconstructed view of the 3 dams above Saunders, taken 27 February 1972, from Geological Survey Circular 667, West Virginia's Buffalo Creek Flood, 7 [Photo by the West Virginia Department of Highways]

Buffalo Creek consists of 3 branches. As part of its strip mining operations, the Buffalo Mining Company, a subsidiary of the Pittston Coal Company, began dumping gob -- mine waste consisting of mine dust, shale, clay, low-quality coal, and other impurities -- into the Middle Fork branch as early as 1957. Buffalo Mining constructed its first gob dam, or impoundment, near the mouth of Middle Fork in 1960. Six years later, it added a second dam, 600 feet upstream. By 1968, the company was dumping more gob another 600 feet upstream. By 1972, this third dam ranged from 45 to 60 feet in height. The dams and coal mine waste had turned Middle Fork into a series of black pools.
In 1967, a break in one of the dams caused slight flooding in the hollow. State officials requested a few minor alterations to the impoundment. In February 1971, Dam No. 3 failed, but Dam No. 2 halted the water. The state cited Pittston for violations but failed to follow up with inspections. Pittston, which had developed a reputation for poor safety practices, was cited for over 5,000 safety violations at its mines nationally in 1971. It challenged each of the violations and paid only $275 of the $1.3 million levied in fines. By 1972, Pittston was the largest independent coal producer in the country and ranked second in the number of fatal and non-fatal accidents. Strip Mining Site on Buffalo Creek
A strip mining site on Buffalo Creek
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