LONG-TIME WV REPORTER LOOKS BACK ON BUFFALO CREEK - A West Virginia Tragedy 1972

(03/01/2013)

By Dave Peyton, 2013

Longtime Huntington/Charleston Newspaper Reporter/Columnist

The late Jack Hardin and I were the first Huntington reporters on the scene at the Buffalo Creek Disaster in February, 1972, 41 years ago this week.

In preparation for going there, John Foy, the Herald-Dispatch general manager at the time, came to Jack and asked what we needed. Jack told him plainly we needed a few hundred dollars each “and two pints of whiskey each.”

John didn’t bat an eye and in an hour, the goods were delivered to each of us. I wasn’t a whiskey drinker, but I trusted Jack to know what we needed.

We flew to Wyoming County and drove into Man. It was complete chaos and everyone was in shock.

The rescue and recovery operations were set up in Man High School. We went there the first night to see what was going on.

The governor, in his wisdom, had shut down all the liquor stores in Logan County. Jack Hardin knew that was going to happen.

The head of the Red Cross rescue and recovery operation paced the halls of Man High. As he walked by us, Jack and I heard him mutter: “What I would’t give for a shot of whiskey about now.”

Jack put his arm around the man and said “I think I can help you out, Brother,” and escorted him into an empty room.

Governor Arch Moore had cleared the hollow of reporters and said they would be arrested if they disobeyed his orders.

The next morning, a Red Cross helicopter toured the many survivor camps in the hollow.

Guess who was on that helicopter?

Yes. Jack Hardin and he returned with an eyewitness account of what was going on in those camps.

How did he get on that Red Cross helicopter? Guess.

The next evening I was in the cafeteria where the West Virginia National Guard was hanging out during their few hours of R&R.

I sat down next to a few of them. They were drinking Coke. I asked if maybe they’d like to have a little something extra in their drinks. I passed a whiskey bottle around.

Two of the guys were truck drivers. I arranged to meet them at their National Guard deuce-and-a-half truck the following morning.

I adorned myself with a guardsman’s heavy coat and sat between them as we made our way through the police lines, against the rules laid down by Moore.

They told me they were going to be there all day but I needed to get back early to file a story. They let me off about half way up the hollow. I took pictures and interviewed stunned survivors near a school.

I had to get back but how?

What would Jack Hardin do, I thought.

I waved down a passing state police car.

“Hi fellas,” I said. “I’m with the Huntington newspaper and I’m not supposed to be here.”

They looked at me and one of them said “Well, we’re going to have to take you back down to Man.”


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