Cyclone is a collection of homes along Route 10 in Wyoming County. As the crow flies, it's only about 20 miles north over Buffalo Mountain to Buffalo Creek. Cyclone, however, is more of a commuter town for Oceana, 10 miles east, and the county seat of Pineville, 30 miles east. A number of the homes are newer and built of brick or aluminum clapboard siding. Some have pools. And some of the pools were frequently coated with the dust that covered the houses for several years.
Many homes in the center of Cyclone endured periodic dustings from the mine above. Named Paynter Branch, the medium-sized mine was bordered by its namesake creek on the south and Route 10 to the north. The mining was not quite mountaintop removal but a combination of stripping and auguring. It had two small valley fills. Like a similarly configured mine in Dingess in Mingo County, the blasts were fairly small compared to the large mountaintop removal mines. That didn't lessen the impact, however, because the mine was very close to the communities. There were 164 homes, churches and businesses within half a mile of the mine. There were numerous blasts within 1500 feet of homes.
One of the first bad blasts came around Halloween in 1997. Beverly Walters called DEP early in December because her floors had heaved and pictures were falling off walls during the blasts. The inspector checked the blasting records and found that the mine had designed the blast wrong. It said the closest structure was 1800 feet away, when the Walters house was actually closest--and only 1400 feet away. This means the blast should have been smaller. The mine got a violation for that, as well as two other blasts that used the wrong protected structure. But the problems continued for nearly three more years.
In late April 1999, several residents complained about blasts shaking their homes. Two months later, a blast was so loud that it scared Barbara Jeffries' grandson. The seismograph records provided confirmation. The air blast was 129 dB, just 4 decibels lower than the allowed limit.
That same blast also produced a large cloud of dust that settled over David Robertson's house and those of his nearby neighbors. Two months later, Dave Robertson and Helen Cook complained to DEP that dust and fumes from the blasting covered their houses and seeped inside through the air conditioning. Robertson even took photographs. DEP issued a violation for off-site damage. The mine agreed to wash both houses after mining had moved away. This time the air blast was even larger: 130 dB.
In fact, loud air blasts seemed to be fairly common. In an examination of 105 blasts, there were 35 loud enough to trigger the seismograph. And 30 of those exceeded 115 dB. DEP has found that blasts louder than 115dB cause complaints.
Dust and noise weren't the only problems from blasting. In December 1998, David Robertson noticed a small crack had formed in his hallway ceiling. Several times he told DEP that items on shelves quivered and moved during blasts.
Blasting wasn't the only problem the mine caused either. In late January 1999, a sediment ditch leading from the mine collapsed during a heavy rain. Mud and debris rushed down into the Browns Mobile Home Park, piling up around the homes. DEP did fine the mine, which agreed to clean up the mess.
A number of the folks who live in Cyclone rely on the mines for a living. Barbara Jeffries is one, but she feels that her house is important, too. "My husband works for the mines," she said, "But they can't tear up my house,"