The snow didn’t stop survivors and others from gathering at the Buffalo Creek Memorial Library to remember the mine slurry dam break that sent 132,000,000 gallons of black water raging through 16 communities lining Buffalo Creek. It claimed the lives of 125, injured more than 1,000, left 4,000 homeless and changed lives for generations to come.
Gertie Moore’s story is one story of hundreds told about events leading up to that day of utter devastation.
Moore had been driving a school bus through the communities at Buffalo Creek for about seven years in February of 1972. Because of her occupation and where she lived, she estimates she knew about 80 percent of the people who died in the flood.
When she started on her bus run Thursday morning, February 25, 1972, she was blocked by work on a culvert near the dam. Continual rain over a number of days was causing problems all over the county. She went to a tipple and called her supervisor to explain her problem. When she returned to the bus, she found a logging truck had an accident there and had lost his load, meaning an even longer delay for her. She ended up being stuck there from 7 a.m. until almost noon.
In the meantime, the decision was made to let school out early because of the rain and issues with high water along some of the roads. Moore’s brother, who was also a bus driver, picked up her children and brought them home from school while she was still stranded.
School had also been canceled for the next day, Friday, February 26. Moore remembers thinking she would have been near the base of the dam if there had been school that day. She would have been on her bus run, picking up children to take them to school.
But, that wasn’t the case. Instead of being out and about that morning, Moore stood on her front porch in Davey Hollow, at the mouth of Lorado and watched as the Dillon’s house went by in a wall of black water.
“I thought my son might have been in that house. I didn’t know where he was. I asked my neighbor if she knew where he was and she thought he had gone to the church, which would also have been in the path of that wall of water. I handed my baby to her and went running to try and find him. As I was running, I saw him running toward me. I fell to the ground and thanked God for my son. He was only 12 years old,” sobbed Moore, emotional as she re-lived the incident.
Moore says she doesn’t want the people who died so tragically that day to be forgotten.
“I don’t want them to be forgotten. I believe those people died in vain. I don’t want something like that to happen again and have people go through what we have gone through for all these years.”
Dennis Deitz and Carlene Mowery wrote “Buffalo Creek Valley of Death,” to tell the story of the disaster. Moore became acquainted with him and said he too was affected deeply by the flood. Deitz has since written about a similar tragedy at Cabin Creek. Moore commented, “Before I started to read the book, I didn’t know any of the people. By the time I finished, I knew every one and I knew exactly what those people left behind were going through. I will never forget any of them. They need to be remembered and it should never happen again.”
Moore went on to tell of physical and emotional suffering her family went through after the flood and said living through a disaster left deep wounds that never heal.
Moore drove her school bus another 22 years after the disaster that left Buffalo Creek looking like a war zone. She still lives less than four miles from where dam number three was. She says that as long as she is able, she will gather with her friends and neighbors to remember those who lost their lives. Each will have their name read reverently there, just as they will be read over the intercom at Man High School, on the anniversary of the flood that changed a community forever.