50 years after the coal disaster: WVa creek is teeming in fish

Perry Harvey was fishing at Buffalo Creek the day before the disaster struck.

50 years after the coal disaster: WVa creek is teeming in fish

He said, "There was a golden trout out there that I was trying to catch."

Did he get it? "Nope."

Harvey attempted to go to his wife's birthday celebration, but was stopped by police. A coal company's hillside impoundment Dams collapsed miles away. The slurry sent crashing downhill into the hollow, flooding small towns and killing 125 people.

In the decades that followed, any type of fishing was prohibited on the southern West Virginia watersway.

After several days of heavy rains, the makeshift dam collapsed and released black water at an estimated 132 million gallons (660 million liters) Because roads, bridges, and railroad lines were damaged or blocked, rescue operations were delayed. National Guard helicopters rescued survivors and delivered supplies.

The current reached such a height that it covered telephone poles, The disaster caused more than 4,500 deaths and injured 1,100 people.

Residents gather this weekend to celebrate the 50th anniversary one of the most devastating environmental disasters in American history. They can also enjoy a celebration of a successful comeback.

After Harvey and others made a concerted effort to restore the Buffalo Creek habitat, which was destroyed over a 17-mile stretch (27 km), it is now teeming again with trout.

Harvey stated that Harvey's father and brothers were all fishermen and miners. It was something I enjoyed when I was young.

He stated that the adults decided that getting the children involved would make them less likely to worry about their kids drinking or using drugs.

The creek that had been poisoned was still alive long after the February 26, 1972 disaster. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did some digging, but it did not support trout habitat.

The ecosystem was further damaged when water from an abandoned coal mine flooded, turning the creek green. The Buffalo Creek Watershed Association was founded in 2005. The mine owner was sued by the state regulators. To fix the creek, the association used settlement money.

Harvey stated, "That's when we really got cranky up."

The creek was stocked with boulders that were donated by another miner. To further aid in the formation of the trout-friendly pools, the association purchased habitat structures.

Volunteers cleaned up the trash along the creek. The busload of high school students from the area was brought in to help them complete the 40 hours required for graduation.

After being checked for pH and temperature, the creek was then returned to the Division of Natural Resources' trout stocksing program in 2006. This came after a 34 year hiatus. Stockings are now done several times per year.

Jacob Turkale (25), who caught a rainbow trout on Tuesday, said that he loves it. "I have been fishing here almost 17 years. "I want to fish anywhere else."

In April, the association will host its annual kids' fishing tournament. It will give away 125 reels and fishing gear.

The tragedy will not be forgotten. Saturday's victims were remembered at the exact high school that was used as a temporary mortuary 50 years ago.

Harvey's home was only barely spared by the deluge. Harvey saw bodies on the long walk to check in with relatives after the deluge had receded. These images were etched into his mind.

He said, "It brings back old experiences of being in Vietnam."

Barbara Brunty, her 3-year-old daughter, watched as her home was swept away with her Christmas presents: a Chatty Cathy doll, a kitchen set, and a toy motorcycle.

Brunty was terrified by every strong wind gust and storm that rocked her temporary trailer that summer. Arthur, her husband, eventually rebuilt the house on the exact same site.

She said that "we're going to stay here as long as he does his job here", and added that, without the dam, "we could all be over here safely."

The state sued Pittston Coal, the mine owner; then-Gov. Arch Moore agreed to a $1 million settlement at his end of the second term. An additional settlement was made for survivors, which was approximately $13,000 per plaintiff.

Pittston declared in 1999 that it would be leaving the coal industry.

Jack Spadaro is a mine safety inspector and an environmental specialist. He has dedicated his life to preventing such disasters from ever happening again. He was heavily involved with the development of federal regulations and improved criteria for construction and maintenance of coal waste dams.

Spadaro also wrote most of the state report discrediting Pittston's claim of an "act God" causing the disaster. An investigation revealed that the dam was built on top coal slurry from an earlier dam. Then, more material was added to it.

Spadaro stated that it took only 15 minutes for the entire thing to fail. Spadaro said that people died in an instant when the tidal waves swept through the valley.

The bottom of a coal impoundment in eastern Kentucky burst into an underground mine, poisoning two streams and flooding a water supply. A section of an embankment that was being built collapsed in a coal slurry lake in northern West Virginia in 2012. The driver of the bulldozer that was being used in the excavation fell into the pond, and the driver also died.

The U.S. Mine Safety Health Administration lists 570 coal impoundments in the United States. West Virginia is the most populous with 108. Kentucky has 102. MSHA stated that 49 impoundments are a significant risk because of the possibility of a failure.

The risk of pollution from coal ash is also a concern. This toxic waste from power plants burning coal can cause environmental damage. Last month , the Environmental Protection Agency directed utilities not to dump waste in unlined storage tanks and to accelerate plans to close dangerous or leaking coal ash sites.

Today, the Buffalo Creek is calm at times and flows swiftly in others. Its rapids are gurgling. The trout love to hide in the pools of tranquil water, which is why the water is calm.

Harvey stated, "It doesn't seem so long ago that this happened." "But it brings back memories. It brings back memories.