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Buffalo Creek Timeline
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Buffalo Creek Timeline

1904 The Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad completed its Charleston, W.Va., to Logan, W.Va., line making Logan County’s coal easily transportable to national markets.

1912 The C&O Railroad build the first spur line by Buffalo Creek. The first coal camps at Buffalo Creek were built.

1924 Crane Creek flood (Mercer County, WV), refuse pile blocking a waterway gave way, killing eight people. Published opinion, Am. Coal Co. v. De Wese, 30 F.3d 349 (4th Cir. 1929).

1942 Buchanan County coal refuse pile explosion covered the railroad tracks and highway, demolished seven houses, killed six people, and injured four.

1945 The Lorado Coal Company opened a coal mine at Buffalo Creek and began dumping coal refuse into the mouth of Middle Fork hollow.

1946 The Buffalo Creek Company purchased the Lorado Coal Company.

1948 US Department of Interior published an information circular, “Burning Refuse Dumps at Coal Mines,” discouraging the use of coal refuse dumps as dams.

1955 (March) Pittston coal refuse dam broke at Lick Fork, Virginia. Pittston settled a lawsuit over this breakdown

June 12, 1964 Buffalo Mining Company (“BMC”) incorporated.

1966 A United Kingdom coal-waste dump in South Aberfam, Wales similar to the one at Buffalo Creek collapses, killing 147 people. A U.S. Geological Survey geologist inspects the Buffalo Creek dam and concludes that it was basically “unstable” and that “the bank [was] subject to large wash-out on [the] north side from [any] overflow from the lake.”

1967 The U.S. Department of Interior releases its Report on Condition of 38 West Virginia Coal Waste Dams warning about Aberfam. Buffalo Mining Company’s (“BMC’s”) dam #1 fails causes a steam explosion and damaging the Saunders community right below the dam. BMC then build’s dam #2.

March 11, 1967 Pittston’s Dola, W.Va., dam failed and a massive flood ensued. Pittston settled all property damage claims.

February 5, 1968 Buffalo Creek resident wrote the Governor of West Virginia about her fears that the dam would collapse. Public Service Commission and Water Resources Division inspectors checked the dams but nothing happened.

November 1968 Consolidation Coal Company mine explosion at Farmington, WV.

1969 Congress enacted the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act. BMC feared the increased regulation cost might bankrupt it and became open to buyout.

1970 Dam #3 is completed.

1970 Pittston’s London insurance underwriters inquired about all of its dams. Pittston failed to obtain an “independent engineering opinion” on the Buffalo Creek dams.

July 14, 1970 West Virginia Department of Natural Resources (WVDNR) Inspector recommended an emergency spillway on Dam #3 in his inspection report.

December 1970 Pittston employee drafts memorandum warning that federal regulations “‘forbid the closing off of any stream or the impoundment of water’ by refuse-pile dams.” He is forbidden from distributing the memorandum.

January 1, 1971 Pittston’s umbrella insurance underwriters imposed a $1 million deductible in response to the Dola, W. Va., dam failure.

February 1971 Dam #3 collapsed. Half of its downstream side slumped but there wasn’t any flood. BMC filled the hole with more coal refuse.

April 16, 1971 WVDNR Inspector recommended an emergency spillway on Dam #3 in his inspection report.

May 1, 1971 Pittston acquired BMC and assumed sole management of BMC.

June 2, 1971 BMC’s vice president asked Pittston’s legal counsel about a federal safety standard prohibiting refuse piles from impeding drainage or impounding water.

July 1971 Pittston’s vice-president of industrial engineering and training received English National Coal Board’s booklet Spoil Heaps and Lagoons warning about future Aberfan disasters.

August 16, 1971 WVDNR Inspector recommended an emergency spillway on Dam #3 in his inspection report.

October 8, 1971 Pittston promised WVDNR to install an emergency spillway on Dam #3.

December 17, 1971 WVDNR Inspector recommended an emergency spillway on Dam #3 in his inspection report.

1972 About 5,000 people lived in the Buffalo Creek holler including 1,000 miners.

February 22 A federal mine inspector and BMC safety engineer find dam #3 satisfactory.

February 25 Because of heavy rains, dam #3 was rising 1-2 inches per hour.

February 26

  • 1:30 a.m., dam #3’s water was only one foot below the dam’s crest. BMC’s vice president stops any efforts to warn residents and reassures the police that the dam will hold.
  • 8:03 a.m., dam #3 failed and carried away dams #1 and #2. The wall of water exploded the burning refuse pile before wiping out the Buffalo Creek valley.

February 28 Pittston employee distributes warning memorandum previously forbidden in December 1970.

March 1972 Arnold & Porter agreed to represent the Buffalo Creek Citizens Committee in a lawsuit against Pittston.

March 21, 1972 Pittston’s board of directors authorized BMCto establish a claims office in Buffalo Creek.Pittston moved for summary judgment because Pittston is not a proper party, to strike certain allegations in the complaint, and in the alternative for a more definite statement as to plaintiffs’ states of citizenship and damage claims.

March 28 Pittston press release stating that it had opened offices to process loss claims without admitting any responsibility.

  • Kanawha County Bar Association voted to investigate Arnold & Porter’s “alleged solicitation of legal business.” It later concluded that there was no impropriety.
  • Stern and Staker begin discussing settlement.

March 31 In an SEC filing, Pittston stated that it believed that the “ultimate effect of [any] claims [related to the Buffalo Creek disaster] should not be material in relation to [Pittston’s] consolidated financial position.”

April Over 1,000 residents registered claims with Pittston. At that time, Pittston had made only one payment for $4,000.

May A group of Buffalo Creek disaster survivors traveled to Pittston’s annual stockholders meeting in Richmond, Va., to petition for fair restitution. The survivors were not allowed to address the meeting. During the meeting, the Field Foundation proposed a resolution that Pittston should spend more money to protect miners and their families. This resolution was passed “in spirit only.” A motion to make the resolution binding on Pittston management was defeated by a vote of 12 million 
shares to 1,217 shares.

August 8, 1972 Congress passed the National Dam Inspection Act. Subsequent problems with implementation.

September 2, 1972 West Virginia Ad Hoc Commission of Inquiry into the Buffalo Creek Flood released its report.The Commission concluded after eight public hearings, 91 witnesses, and 2,000 pages of transcript that Pittston “has shown flagrant disregard for the safety of residents of Buffalo Creek and other persons who live near coal-refuse impoundments.”

September 3 Arnold & Porter filed its complaint in federal court and served it on Pittston. The diversity jurisdiction complaint alleged that Pittston had been negligent, was strictly liable, had created a nuisance, and had violated federal and West Virginia coal mining laws (to include the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act). It sought compensatory and punitive damages and a permanent injunction requiring Pittston to provide the plaintiffs with the same or equal housing and community facilities they enjoyed prior to the Flood and enjoining and restraining Pittston from constructing further refuse piles near Buffalo Creek.
  • Arnold and Porter noticed Pittston’s president and vice-president’s depositions and submitted other discovery requests to Pittston.
  • Judge Christie, the federal district judge originally assigned to the case, removes himself from the case because of his friendship with Pittston’s president. The case is assigned to Judge K.K. Hall.
  • Stern meets with Pittston’s counsel concerning settlement.
  • Pittston filed a lengthy memorandum setting forth new facts and arguments to support its motion to dismiss.


November Special grand jury led by two special prosecuting attorneys (including WVU College of Law Dean Willard Lorensen) brings no criminal indictments against Pittston.

March 2, 1973 Judge Hall holds hearing on Pittston’s motion to dismiss and denies the motion for the time being while plaintiffs obtain full discovery. Judge Hall suggests selecting 4-5 sample cases on the question of liability.

April 16, 1973 Plaintiffs moved to amend their complaint to add additional plaintiffs. Plaintiffs filed their more definite statement of their damage claims. As part of its more definite statement, Arnold & Porter filed with the court two telephone books worth of victim statements.

  • Pittston objected to Arnold & Porter’s more definite statement, asking the Court to make the plaintiffs state their dollar damage claims with more particularity.
  • Arnold & Porter’s medical and psychological experts started interviewing and examining the plaintiffs. The experts concluded that the victims suffered from “survivor syndrome,” what is known today as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”).
  • Stern asked Judge Hall to help him get access to the West Virginia Ad Hoc Commission of Inquiry into the Buffalo Creek Flood’s documents. Hall agreed and the documents were provided to Stern.
  • Judge Hall ruled that the plaintiff’s survivor-syndrome claims might exceed $10,000 (the diversity amount-in-controversy amount at the time). Hall also asked Pittston to let the plaintiffs see Pittston’s insurance documents and refused to keep discovery confidential.
  • Pittston’s Oil Division applied to Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection for authority to build a $350 million oil refinery and tanker terminal.

July 5, 1973 Judge Hall granted plaintiffs’ motion to amend their complaint. Arnold & Porter amended their complaint to add almost 200 more plaintiffs, bringing the total to 625, and $64 million in damages.

September 5, 1973 Hearing

October 5, 1973 Plaintiffs filed supplemental more definite statement of their damage claims.

February 15, 1974 Hearing before Judge Hall concerning Pittston’s motion for additional time for discovery. Hall set trial for July 15, 1974. Hall planned to try 4-6 representative cases.
  • State of West Virginia sued Pittston in both state and federal court for the state’s damaged and destroyed bridges, roads, and schools for $50 million compensatory and $50 million punitive damages.
  • Justice v. Pittston class action by now-Judge Phillip Gaujot on behalf of 348 children not in the Prince lawsuit filed in federal district court.
  • The United States declined to sue Pittston for cleanup costs.
February 26, 1974 West Virginia statute of limitations deadline.
  • Stern met with plaintiffs and obtained settlement authority.
  • Arnold and Porter gave Pittston a $32.5 million written settlement proposal.

April 1, 1974 Pittston moved to dismiss absent plaintiffs, plaintiffs claiming psychic injury while they were physically away from Buffalo Creek during the flood.

April 30, 1974 Plaintiffs amended their complaint

May 1, 1974 Discovery deadline. Fact stipulations, exhibit lists, and pretrial motions due.

May 13, 1974 Judge Hall denied motion for partial summary judgment as to personal injury claims of 33 plaintiffs, published 63 F.R.D. 28 (S.D. W. Va. 1974).

June 4, 1974 Proposed representative plaintiff lists from both sides due. Pittston’s list is late.

June 7, 1974 Judge Hall declined to act on Pittston’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ demand for injunctive relief and to strike certain allegations in the complaint and made decisions on future trial structure.

June 15, 1974 Trial briefs due.

June 26, 1974 The plaintiffs and Pittston settle for $13.5 million.

July 3, 1974 Plaintiffs/Pittston $13.5 million settlement agreement filed with the court

July 15, 1974 The scheduled trial date.

August 1, 1974 Final proceedings.

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