Report Cover
Cover the Governor's Ad Hoc Commission of Inquiry, The Buffalo Creek Flood and Disaster.


Impoundment Dams
Reconstructed photograph of the impoundment dams on the Middle Fork of Buffalo Creek before the collapse.


Sketch Plan
Sketch plan for construction of impoundment dam no. 3, 1968.


Property Damage
Property damage after the dam collapse



Based on the Governor's Ad Hoc Commssion of Inquiry's Report,
The Buffalo Creek Flood and Disaster (BCFD).

1945                Mining begins on the Middle Fork of Buffalo Creek with the opening of Lorado Mining Company’s Lorado Coal Mine No. 5. (BCFD, 2-4)

1947                Mine No. 5 Preparation plant completed. Preparation plant begins dumping refuse near the intersection of the Middle Fork and Buffalo Creek, amounting to 1000 tons per day. (BCFD, 2-4.)

1954                West Virginia Department of Water Resources Commission requests the Lorado Mining Company to begin a study of water pollution problems and the means of “closing” the waste circuit at the preparation plant. (BCFD, 2-4)

July 1955        Lorado Coal Mining Company prepares a plan for installation of disposal facilities with a request for a temporary permit. (BCFD, 2-4)

19 Aug 1955   West Virginia Water Resources Commission grants the company a six-month temporary permit. (BCFD, 2-4)

28 Jun 1956    West Virginia Water Resources Commission issued the company a permanent permit. (BCFD, 2-4)

Summer 1957 Company received bids to close the water circuit, but construction was delayed because the company investigated the use of “froth flotation cells as a fine-coal recovery medium” for filtration. (BCFD, 2-5)

Jan 1958         Company informed WV Water Resources Commission of its intention to use froth floatation cells at the Middle Fork.

August 1958   WV Water Resources Commission’s inspectors find that washery waste was still being discharged into the Middle Fork. Follow-up inspections in October and December revealed no change in the situation. (BCFD, 2-5)

16 Dec 1958   Resources Commission issued a letter requesting the Company to report on its plans to comply with the permit, issued 28 Jun 1956. (BCFD, 2-5)

Mar 1959        Company reported that it had been working with several company’s concerning waste disposal on the Middle Fork. (BCFD, 2-5)

27 Aug 1959   Company informed the WV Resources Commission that it was working with a consulting firm on the size of the filtration system, and once this was known it could proceed with construction (BCFD, 2-5)

6 Oct 1959      President of Lorado Coal Mining Company writes the WV Water Resources Commission requesting a delay in construction of the filtration system, because the depressed coal market would affect the company’s ability to pay for it, as well as a replacement of the current coal seal by another might require a different solution. (BCFD, 2-5,6)

April 1960      As part of its stream-pollution abatement program, the Company submits a plan to the WV Water Resources Commission containing an alternative to the construction of the costly filtration system. The Company planned to contain the water behind the existing refuse pile at the mouth of Buffalo Creek, with the construction of one or two earthen dams upstream designed to trap solids, which would allow the collection of “filtered”clear water to be impounded behind refuse pile. (BCFD, 2-6)

May 1960       The Company began the construction of Dam No. 1 by dumping coal refuse across the valley up-stream from the refuse pile (BCFD, 2-6,7)

Nov 1963        The Company shut down the Mine No. 5 and its preparation plant.(BCFD, 2-7)

Oct 1964         The Buffalo Creek Mining Company reopened the mine and preparation plant, using Dam No 1 for filtration of the plant’s effluent. (BCFD, 2-7,9)

1966                Buffalo Creek Mining Company begins the construction of Dam No. 2, 600 feet upstream from Dam No. 1, by dumping coal refuse across the hollow. (BCFD, 2-10)

21 Oct 1966    In Wales, United Kingdom, a coal mine waste bank slumps, releasing a huge mass of liquified coal refuse. Concerned that something similar to the Wales incident might occur in the United States, the U.S. Bureau of Mines prepares a list of similar waste banks in the Appalachian coal mining region and begins to inspect those, whose failure could result in loss of life or extensive property damage. (BCFD, 2-9)

Shortly after this event, the UMW District Office asked local offices to send it any information on unsafe conditions in their area. Frank Brown, recording secretary of the local at Lorado, send a letter to the district president advising him of the danger from the dams on Buffalo Creek. (Senate Hearings, 1228)

9 Dec 1966     Inspection of the Middle Fork waste bank (one of thirty-eight such sites identified in West Virginia) is conducted. The inspection finds that “the waste bank at Saunders [mouth of Middle Fork] was stable as far as large slides were concerned but was subject to large washout on the north side from overflow of the lake (pool no. 1).” Buffalo Creek Mining Company never receives a report. (BCFD, 2-9)

Mar 1967        After a heavy rain fall, water overtops the nearly completed Dam No. 2, carrying away part of the dam, as well as doing the same to Dam No. 1, precipitating a small flood down Buffalo Creek. (BCFD, 2-10)

16 Mar 1967   The WV Department of Natural Resources issues a notice of compliance for pollution control against the Buffalo Mining Company, noting the deficiency of Dam No. 2 to handle excessive runoff. (BCFD, 2-10,11)

21 June 1967  After an inspection of Dam No. 2, the WV Department of Natural Resources reports: “Careful engineering will have to be done on impoundment problems. We do not want any more washouts.” (BCFD, 2-11)

Dec 1967        Dam No. 2 finished. The Company complies with the 16 Mar 1957 notice by widening Dam No. 2 and installing a 30-inch overflow pipe. (BCFD, 2-11)

Feb 1968         After a complaint by Saunder resident Pearl Woodrum to Governor Hulett Smith, state engineer Harold Snyder inspects the dams and reports that there was no danger of a washout of the refuse dump (Dam No. 1)but he questions the ability of the overflow pipes in Dam No. 2 to handle the excessive runoff. (BCFD, 2-12)

28 Feb 1968    Based on the Woodrum complaint a search of Public Service Commission reports that its records fail to show that waste bank (Dam No.. 1)and Dam No. 2 had ever been approved, both misdemeanors. (BCFD, 2-12)

4 Mar 1968     The WV Department of Natural Resources notifies Logan County Prosecuting Attorney, Oval Dameron, of Woodrum complaint. No action is undertaken. (BCFD, 2-12,13)

28 Mar 1968   The WV Department of Natural resources issues a notice of compliance for pollution control against the Buffalo Mining Company, requiring the construction of another dam behind Dam No. 2, “to act as a retaining dam for solids,” as well as slowing down surface runoff. (BCFD, 2-15)

29 May 1968  In response the 28 Mar 1968 notice the Company begins construction of Dam No. 3 upstream from Dam No. 2 by dumping coal waste across the hollow. (BCFD, 2-15) The method of constructing the dam “is common practice throughout the coal-mining regions.” No engineering plans were ever made for the dam (BCFD, 2-16)

Feb 1969         During the construction of Dam 3 a major portion of te refuse sank, displacing some of the sludge on which it is being built. (BCFD, 2-17)

1969                During the year Company also constructs Dam No. 4 some 2,000 feet upstream of Dam No. 3, composed of shale and coal waste. (BCFD, 2-23).

Jun 1970         The Pittston Company acquires the Buffalo Coal Mining Company, finding no danger from the two impoundments [Dam Nos. 2 and 3] along Middle Creek. (BCFD, 2-17) Dam No. 3 is about 50% complete at the time of the acquisition (BCFD, 2-18)

Feb 1971         Dan No. 3 reaches its final height, about 800,000 tons of coal waste being used its construction. (BCFD, 2-18).

Feb 1971         Dam No. 2 cracks and slumps, sending pollute water into Buffalo Creek. The Company repairs the dam by filling the beach with coal refuse and widened the dam on the upstream side. (BCFD, 2-13)

Mar 1971        Dam No. 3 slumps sending black water into the pool behind Dam No. 2 (BCFD, 2-19).

Mar 25 1971   State inspectors reports the “lack of emergency spillway or overflow system on the upper impoundment [Dam No. 3].” (BCFD, 2-19-20)

June 1971       The Company reports the installation of a 24-inch emergency spillway, made of 1/4 inch butt-welded pipe, placed diagonally across the right side of Dam No. 3, about 7 or 8 feet below the crest. (BCFD, 2-22)

Feb 1972         By this date, Dam No. 3 extended 465 feet on the downstream side and impounded some 10 million feet of coal waste water.

   Map of the three impoundment ponds on the Middle Fork of Buffalo Creek just before the collapse of dam no. 3. (The Governor's Ad Hoc Commission of Inquiry, The Buffalo Creek Flood and Disaster, p. 2-16)



© Marshall University, 2002. All rights reserved.
Last updated, October 29, 2002.
Created and Maintained by Lisle Brown, Special Collections, Morrow Library, Marshall University.