February 25 2002
Those children are with us today
Buffalo Creek was both horrific and preventable
Sometimes the voice in my head tells me to give it a rest. Forget
about Buffalo Creek.
"Just be glad it didn't happen to you," it says. But the voice is
It DID happen to me. Simply stated, it defined who I have
I found out last year that the Buffalo Creek disaster was a defining
moment as well for Bob Weaver, editor of the online Calhoun
County newspaper, the Hur Herald, at hurherald.com.
Both our moments involved children. Both of us were in the hollow
following the disaster. Both of us wept at what we saw.
Weaver had just left his National Guard unit in Spencer, the 1092nd
Engineers. The unit was activated to help with the cleanup. Though
not obligated to do so, Weaver left his funeral home in Spencer to
follow the Guard unit to Man at the mouth of Buffalo Creek in Logan
I was with a group of journalists and photographers from
who flew to the area the day after the disaster.
Weaver worked at South Man Elementary School in a basement
I didn't know nor did I meet Weaver at the time. I was outside the
school on the streets of Man looking into the hollow eyes of the
as they walked aimlessly along the streets of Man, too tired and too
shocked to be angry.
A wall of mud and water from a coal slag dam at the head of the
hollow broke on the morning of Feb. 26, 1972, killing 125, injuring
hundreds more, destroying hundreds of homes and bringing an end
of a way of life on Buffalo Creek.
Weaver wrote about his defining moment this way in a column last
"Helping Duke and Jim embalm, I began to stare into the faces of
lifeless bodies of the young and old, encrusted with blackened mud
which had been difficult to remove by the ‘hose crew' in a tiny tent
behind the school.
"I looked into a father's face wrought with despair, choking back
tears as he kneeled on the concrete floor of the school gym.
Reposing on an army surplus litter was the embalmed, lifeless body
of his eight-year-old son. It was February 1972 and Pittston Coal,
America's largest independent producer at the time, said the
was an ‘act of God.'
"A state policeman pulled the plastic sheet from the child's body,
ongoing ritual of identification, as survivors came to claim their
. . .
"The father embraced the child, clutched him to his chest and rose
slowly to his feet. Incoherent words, sobbing and crying, he
lost in the pain of the moment. . . . A state cop started to stop him
and I said, ‘Let him go. He'll be back.'
"He took the child across the narrow driveway and ascended the
steep Logan County hill. In slight view, he sat down under a barren
tree and began to speak to his dead son. I must tell you, trying not
show emotion, I went to my cot in an upstairs classroom. . . .When I
returned to the gym, the child had been returned."
It was the sight of the surviving children in the refugee center at
High School that changed my life. Many had lost both parents.
They sat on their cots, unable to move or do anything unless
someone assisted them. Their eyes reflected a mixture of abject
sadness and incalculable terror.
They had lost their families, their homes, and their toys. They lost
everything in a totally preventable nightmare of water, mud and
I watched them pull dead bodies out of the cold Ohio River
following the collapse of the Silver Bridge at Point Pleasant in 1967.
The night of the Marshall plane crash in 1970, I walked among the
bodies at the crash site.
But Buffalo Creek is the only one of the three tragedies that still
speaks to me daily. And it will until I die.