THE TWO FLOODS IN LOGAN COUNTY
LYBURN JULY 19, 2002
BUFFALO CREEK AND BLAIR JULY 27, 2002
The first was immense and in your face. News media from as far away as New York City descended on the tiny hollow at Lyburn within hours of the deluge. The coal company was Massey, with as reputation as black as the coal slobbered over the houses and yards. Yet the flood victims have been treated better than those in any of the 35 other communities profiled on these pages.
The second was smaller and far quieter. The only news coverage came from the Logan Banner. Damages were not as bad, though just as upsetting as at Lyburn. The mines nearby are owned by Arch Coal, sometimes portrayed as the white knights. Arch has denied responsibility and is refusing to help pay for cleanup of the flood victims homes.
Ironically, both Lyburn and the Cartwright Hollow area of Buffalo Creek have been flooded before. Cartwright in the summer of 1997, Lyburn in 2000. Neither time did DEP or the coal companies put the responsibility on the valley fills. Both times residents either moved out or resignedly mopped up, though, after much public pressure, Arch covered the expenses at Cartwright Hollow.
Lisa Dowden and her daughter Kelli, 18, thought they were going to die when the water hit their mobile home, the first below the valley fill. A vacuum was created inside the house while the water and sludge rushed by. Only after the force broke windows and pushed the trailer off the foundation, did the back door open and allow them to escape.
What they and their neighbors saw outside looked like a scene from a bad science fiction movie. A white SUV was stuck with its hood in the muck and rear four feet off the ground. Another car was stuck nose down nearby. Trees had fallen every which way. The stream banks were washed away, culverts pushed asunder, and muck in everyone's yards and basements.
The large mountaintop mine, named Tower Mountain, was originally owned by Pittson. In 2000, Pittson sold its coal mining holdings, and the mine was bought by Massey, which named it Bandmill Coal Company. Over the past year, the mine has been gradually closing down. Patches of green had been seen from Route 10 as grass finally began growing on the valley fill. However, the mine's valley fills and sediment ponds had a history of violations. Since January 1999, DEP issued the mine six violations for failure to maintain sediment controls and three for exceeding water pollution limits (See stories in Charleston Gazette).
Bernie Evans of the UMWA had been at the flood scene much of the day. He told me that he had seen cracks in the fill when he had flown over it in April. He believed that the cracked areas gradually filled with water until they gave way during the heavy rain.
James Caldwell, a retired UMWA deep miner, has lived in the same house in the hollow for 32 years. He had been in the strike against Pittson at that mine in the late 1980s. "I expected something like this to happen," he said the evening after the flood as he sat on his porch and watched the cleanup.
James Caldwell sits on his porch Friday evening, July 19. Cleaning up at 8:30 p.m. Friday, July 19. The fill is in the valley at top right.
A month later, the hollow looks vastly different. Massey workers have spent long days cleaning up. The cost is estimated at $1 million. The company is buying at least eight new vehicles, sometimes replacing ones a decade old with a brand new one. It is also installing 10 new mobile homes. Residents who accept the cars and homes are being asked to sign a waiver that they won't sue the company. Massey is involved in several other damages suits, including one for water loss from a deep mine in Mingo County and another for dust pollution in Sylvester.
Jim Caldwell is one who will get a new mobile home. Many of the residents believe Massey has treated them very well, and Caldwell agrees. "I'm a retired United Mine Worker, and they're about to convert me," he told the Associated Press. "All people want is to be treated right."
BUFFALO CREEK AND BLAIR
Eight days later, heavy rains came about 15 miles away. The deluge seemed to wash over Kelly Mountain between Blair and Buffalo Creek and extend to Buffalo Mountain on the southeast side of Buffalo Creek. This area has been mountaintop mined by Arch Coal. An older, mostly finished mine sits on Buffalo Creek, with a valley fill in Cartwright Hollow. Arch's Ruffner mine has been moving up Kelly Mountain from the Rum Creek area since the mid 1990s. Its newer permits stretch toward Amhertsdale.
On the Blair side, the Sharples Fire Department reported that residents had seen a 10-foot wall of water coming down Spruce Fork near Kelly. The Logan Banner carried photos of a washed out bridge and debris that blocked the road from Kelly up over the mountain to Buffalo Creek.
Over at Craneco on Buffalo Creek, residents were evacuated as water rose over the banks of Buffalo Creek. Arch has refused to claim any responsibility or help with the cleanup, according to the Logan Banner, which has upset Sharon Jude, a Cartwright Hollow resident whose home was damaged. (see article)
Jude said some relatives went to look at the ponds below the valley fill during the flood and found the lower of the two ponds was overflowing during the storm. She took photos of the valley fill, the water runoff and the rocks and debris washed down toward the hollow.
Cartwright Hollow flooded almost exactly five years earlier. The mine was still active then, but again Arch refused responsibility. Only after much pressure from citizens, did DEP do a thorough inspection and issued one violation. It also blamed runoff from an adjacent timbering site that got stuck in too small culverts. That time, too, Arch refused to pay for damages. But after residents called in both state and federal inspectors, Arch agreed to pay all damages and move the mobile homes to another location.