MAN, W.Va. (AP) – The day before the crash, Perry Harvey went fishing in Buffalo Creek for one reason.
“There was a golden trout I was trying to catch,” he said.
Did he get it? “No.”
The next morning, on his wife’s birthday, Harvey was driving to pick up the cake, but police blocked the road. A few miles from the coal company, the dams of the coal company collapsed, causing sludge to explode down and into a ravine, flooding small settlements and killing 125 people.
For decades after that, any fishing was no longer an option on the waterway of southern West Virginia.
The makeshift dam collapsed after days of heavy rain, releasing black water estimated at 132 million gallons (600 million gallons). Rescue operations have been slowed down because roads, bridges and railways have been destroyed or blocked. Helicopters of the National Guard picked up the survivors and delivered materials.
The current rose so high that it covered the telephone poles. In addition to the deaths from the natural disaster, 1,100 people were affected, more than 4,000 people were left homeless.
If residents gather this weekend for the 50th anniversary of one of the biggest environmental disasters in U.S. history, they can also enjoy a comeback.
Buffalo Creek, whose habitat has been destroyed on a 17-mile (27-kilometer) stretch, is once again teeming with trout after the constant, coordinated efforts of Harvey and others to get back what they once had – and share it with future generations.
“My dad and brothers were all fishermen and miners,” Harvey said. “I enjoyed it when I was little.”
He said the adults decided that if the children were involved, “they won’t be so inclined to go outside and start worrying about getting on drugs, drinking and the like.”
For a long time after the catastrophe of February 26, 1972, there was no life in the poisoned creek. The dredging work of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers helped, but did nothing to maintain the trout habitat.
In 2005, the ecosystem suffered another blow when water exploded from an abandoned coal mine, turning the creek green. In the same year, the Buffalo Creek Watershed Association was established. State regulators have sued the owner of the mine. The association has started repairing the stream with settlement money.
“We’ve really risen this year,” Harvey said.
The boulders donated by other mine operators were strategically placed in the creek. The association bought housing facilities to further promote the formation of pools that prefer trout.
Volunteers collected garbage around the creek. Local high school students were brought by a bus, which helped them work 40 hours of community service required to obtain a diploma.
After checking the pH and temperature of the creek was returned to the trout stocking program of the Department of Natural Resources in 2006 after a 34-year hiatus. Now replenishment takes place several times a year.
“I like it,” said 25-year-old Jacob Turkale, who caught rainbow trout on Tuesday. “I have been fishing here for almost 17 years. I don’t want to catch anywhere else. “
In April, the association will hold an annual children’s fishing event, distributing 125 fishing rods and reels and other fishing gear.
But the catastrophe will never be forgotten. The victims were commemorated on Saturday at the same high school that served as a temporary morgue 50 years ago.
Garvey’s house was barely spared. When the flood receded, he saw the bodies along a long walk to check on relatives, images that stared at the veteran’s head.
“It evokes old memories of being in Vietnam,” he said.
Barbara Branty watched from a height with her 3-year-old daughter as their house was demolished along with the girl’s Christmas presents: a toy motorcycle, a kitchen set and a Chatty Katie doll.
That summer, Branty cried from fear of each storm and a strong gust of wind that shook her temporary trailer. Eventually she and her husband Arthur rebuilt on the same site as the old house.
“We will live here while he works here,” she said, adding that without the dam, “we could be safe here.”
The state has filed a $ 100 million lawsuit against Pittston Coal mine owner; the then governor. Arch Moore accepted the $ 1 million deal at the end of his second term. A separate estimate for the survivors was about $ 13,000 per plaintiff.
Pitston announced in 1999 that it was leaving the coal business.
Jack Mr., a mine safety researcher and environmental specialist, has done the work of his life to prevent such disasters. He was actively involved in writing federal regulations and reinforced criteria for the construction of coal dams and their maintenance.
Mr. also wrote the bulk of the state report, debunking Pitston’s assertion that the disaster was an “act of God.” The investigation showed that the company built a dam on a coal slurry, which was deposited by the former dam, then it took more materials.
“It took only 15 minutes to fail,” said Mr. “And the people perished instantly when that tidal wave passed through the valley.”
In eastern Kentucky in 2000, the bottom of a coal mine burst into an abandoned underground mine, flooding two streams and poisoning a water pipe. In 2012, a section of the waterfront where they worked collapsed in northern West Virginia. A bulldozer slipped into the pond, the driver of which died.
The U.S. Health and Safety Administration lists 570 active coal depots nationwide. Most in West Virginia – 108. In Kentucky – 102. MSHA said that 49 seizures pose a significant risk due to potential damage from failure.
There is also a risk of environmental damage from coal ash, toxic wastewater left over from burning coal at power plants. Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered utilities to stop dumping waste into uncleaned storage ponds and speed up plans to close leaks or other dangerous places of coal ash.
Buffalo Creek, which has survived today, is calm in places, while others are lively, its rapids gurgle. In pools where trout like to hide, the water is calm.
“It seems like it happened not so long ago,” Harvey said. “But it evokes memories. I remember it the way it was yesterday. “