WEST VIRGINIA: Disaster in the Hollow

Three days of rain mixed with a runoff of snow had dramatically raised the level of the lake dammed up behind the huge coal-slag heap at the head of Buffalo Creek. It was still raining hard at 5:30 a.m. when Logan County Deputy Sheriff Otto Mutters was awakened by a phone call from another deputy warning him that the slag heap was in danger of giving way. As Mutters remembers, "My gut went tight."

Deep in West Virginia's soft-coal region, where tough miners and their families have lived for decades along the narrow...

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