Appalshop filmmaker Mimi Pickering’s 1975 documentary examines one of the worst coal industry disasters in West Virginia’s history. On February 26, 1972, a coal-waste dam owned by the Pittston Company collapsed at the head of a crowded hollow in southern West Virginia. A wall of sludge, debris and water tore through the valley below, leaving in its wake 125 dead and 4,000 homeless. Interviews with survivors, representatives of union and citizen’s groups, and officials of the Pittston Company are juxtaposed with actual footage of the flood and scenes of the ensuing devastation. As reasons for the disaster are sought out and examined, evidence mounts that the company officials knew of the hazard in advance of the flood, and that the dam was in violation of state and federal regulations. The Pittston Company, however, continued to deny any wrongdoing, maintaining that the disaster was ‘an act of God.’
In December 2005, the Librarian of Congress placed The Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act of Man on the National Film Registry, citing it as a “powerful documentary” that “represents the best in regional filmmaking.”
The stories told in this documentary and its companion, Buffalo Creek Revisited, remain relevant today in light of continuing coal mine fatalities, the growth of huge coal-waste impoundments above coalfield communities, and the inept response to the Katrina/Rita Hurricane disaster. Click here (www.appalshop.org/buffalo.) to learn more about the Buffalo Creek disaster and these films.