On the 42nd anniversary of one of the worst tragedies in coal mining history, the West Virginia University College of Law is bringing together original attorneys and other experts to explore the legal and environmental legacy of the infamous Buffalo Creek Disaster.
On February 26, 1972, there was no warning when the Pittston Company dam burst at Buffalo Creek in Logan County, W.Va. It sent a 130-million-gallon, 30-foot wall of water, coal sludge and waste materials through the Buffalo Valley, killing 125 people and injuring more than 1,000. Nearly 1,500 houses and mobile homes were destroyed or damaged, leaving 4,000 people homeless.
The Buffalo Creek Symposium at the WVU College of Law starts on Tuesday, Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. in the Marlyn E. Lugar Courtroom with a screening of two documentaries on the disaster by filmmaker and community media activist Mimi Pickering.
The symposium continues on Wednesday, Feb. 26 at 9 a.m. in Lugar Courtroom with opening remarks by Joyce E. McConnell, dean of the WVU College of Law, and a video message by Senator John “Jay” Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).
Attorney Gerald M. Stern is delivering the symposium’s keynote address, “The Survivors’ Lawsuit.” Stern was the lead counsel for the plaintiffs in one of the Buffalo Creek Disaster class action lawsuits, Dennis Prince et al. v. The Pittston Company. He is also the author of “The Buffalo Creek Disaster: The Story of the Survivors’ Unprecedented Lawsuit” (Vintage, 1977, 2008), one of the most widely read books about the disaster.
Most of the symposium will include a series of panel discussions with lawyers who led the groundbreaking litigation that followed the Buffalo Creek Disaster. These include David N. Webster, the Honorable Philip D. Gaujot, Brad Butler, and Daniel R. Murdock. WVU Law professors Charles DiSalvo, Marjorie McDiarmid and Patrick McGinley will moderate the panel discussions.
The symposium will also explore other aspects of the Buffalo Creek Disaster with Yale University Professor Emeritus of Sociology Kai Erikson, mine safety expert Jack Spadaro, Mingo County attorney Terry Sammons, and Georgetown University Professor of Psychiatry Bonnie Green.
Admission to the Buffalo Creek Symposium is free and the public is invited to attend. Registration for the free lunch must be made online at www.law.wvu.edu/buffalo-creek-symposium.
Kaylyn Christopher, WVU College of Law
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