It was a cold, rainy Saturday morning in Cleveland and I would much rather have stayed in bed and slept all day. But I dragged off to work at The Plain Dealer, which is Ohioís largest daily newspaper, and which is where I was a reporter and assistant city editor at the time.
It was February 26, 1972.
Later on in the morning, we received word on the Associated Press wire that there had been a terrible flood in Logan County, W.Va., and that it was feared many people had been killed. Because hundreds of former West Virginians live in Greater Cleveland and have family in West Virginia, the editors decided our newspaper should have someone at the site to report on the flood. They gave me the assignment.
I was in unfamiliar territory, so I donít know specifically where it was, but I spent that night in the area of Kopperston Mountain. The next morning, I drove over the mountain and down through Oceana to Man. The National Guard allowed me to enter Man because I was reporting on the flood for a news organization.
I went first to Man High School, where a shelter and Red Cross headquarters had been set up and I couldnít believe the large number of people who had taken refuge there because they had lost their homes.
In the afternoon, I took a walk through town and out toward what must have been Kistler and Accoville and on up the creek. I couldnít believe my eyes when I saw the devastation. Houses had been lifted off their foundations and moved downstream, a church had been moved by the water off its foundation and into the middle of the railroad tracks, a store had been moved across the road. Cars and pickup trucks had been carried away and some were tipped over and some were in the creek bed. It was like looking at a toy village that someone had bumped accidentally and all the houses and stores and churches had bounced out of position, some had overturned and some were badly broken.
As I walked up Buffalo Creek watching the National Guard, Red Cross and volunteer rescue people at work, I came across the body of a little girl about 10 or 11 years old pinned beneath some limbs. How very sad it was to know that someone so young would never have a chance to grow up and enjoy the good things life has to offer and to realize later that she and 120-some other people had, in fact, died needlessly. I called over to a group of National Guard and other people and they came over, covered the little girl and took her away.
Unless something like that happens directly to someone -- God forbid -- itís impossible to understand how people react to and are affected by such great losses of their loved ones and property. I got an idea of how difficult it must have been when I returned to Man over the next several months and when I came back on the fifth anniversary of the flood and met a man who had lost family. He was intoxicated each time I saw him and someone told me he had been intoxicated every day since the flood because he was unable to cope with the great sadness of his losses. A very poignant account of the flood and of survivng it was written by Clayton Marcum, and his words appear on this remarkable and informative web site with other first-hand accounts of the flood. How sad.
I was in Man for about a week and as I remember the weather turned fair and warm, and some people began to think hopefully again, and some even began to talk about the ramps coming up on the hillsides. Against all of that, a question occurred to me that lingers to this day: how could something so terrible, so devastating to a community and its families happen in such beautiful surroundings? How could a force so destructive to human life and human emotions be allowed to develop and turn on the people in those beautiful mountains? It was a thought that first occurred to me the previous night as I drove down the highway in the bright moonlight and marveled at the beauty of the leafless trees on the mountains and the silvery patches of snow on the hilltops.
And we wonder yet today.