Daily Update: Sunday, February 26th, 2017

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time and 02-26 - Buffalo Creek Dam

Today is the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the last Sunday of Ordinary Time before Lent. With no Saints to honor today, we note that on this date in 1972 Impoundment Dam 3 on the Buffalo Creek in Logan County, West Virginia failed, causing the fatal Buffalo Creek Flood.

Our Gospel reading for this Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time comes to us from Matthew 6:24 – 34; Jesus tells his disciples, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” Turning to Buffalo Creek, since 1968 the Pittston Coal Company had constructed slurry impoundment dams along the Middle Fork of the creek to contain the liquid waste produced in its coal mining operation; as was common practice, there were multiple dams, with Dam #2 being built above Dam #1, and Dam #3 being built above Dam #2 even higher on the hillside. Pittston Coal, however, had not placed Dam #3 on bedrock, but on the slurry sediment that had collected behind Dam #1 and Dam #2. After heavy rains, four days after the impoundment dams were declared ‘satisfactory’ by a federal mine inspector, Dam #3 gave way on February 26th, 1972, and the blackwater and slurry thus released overwhelmed the lower dams. The resulting flood unleashed approximately 132,000,000 gallons of black waste water, cresting over 30 feet high, upon the residents of sixteen coal mining hamlets in Buffalo Creek Hollow below the dams. Out of a population of 5,000 people, 125 were killed, 1,121 were injured, and over 4,000 were left homeless; 507 houses were destroyed, in addition to forty-four mobile homes and 30 businesses. The disaster also destroyed or damaged homes in Lundale, Saunders, Amherstdale, Crites, Latrobe and Larado. Kerry Albright became known as the “miracle baby” of the disaster. Running from the leading edge of the water, his mother threw him just above the flood level moments before she drowned. He survived with few ill effects, and was raised by his father. His survival gave hope and inspiration to other survivors.  In its legal filings, Pittston Coal referred to the accident as “an Act of God.” Gerald M. Stern, an attorney with Arnold & Porter, wrote a book entitled The Buffalo Creek Disaster: How the survivors of one of the worst disasters in coal-mining history brought suit against the coal company–and won in 1977 about representing the victims of the flood. It included descriptions of his experiences dealing with the political and legal environment of West Virginia, where the influence of large coal mining corporations was intensely significant to the local culture and communities. Sociologist Kai T. Erikson, son of distinguished psychologist and sociologist Erik Erikson, was called as an expert witness in the investigations of the flood and published a study on the effects of the disaster entitled Everything In Its Path: Destruction of Community in the Buffalo Creek Flood (1978). Erikson’s book later won the Sorokin Award, granted by the American Sociological Association for an “outstanding contribution to the progress of sociology.” Simpson-Housley and De Man (1989) found that, seventeen years later, the residents of Buffalo Creek scored higher on a measure of trait anxiety in comparison to the residents of Kopperston, a nearby mining town that did not experience the flood.

Sports last night: our LSU Tigers in their College Baseball game beat the Maryland Terrapins by the score of 14 to 0. Our LSU Tigers lost their College Basketball game with the Georgia Bulldogs by the score of 80 to 82; our LSU Tigers (9-19, 1-15) will next play an Away College Basketball game with the Tennessee Volunteers (15-14, 7-9) on Wednesday, March 1st, 2017. Our LSU Lady Tigers in their first College Softball game were beaten by the UCLA Lady Bruins by the score of 5 to 6. Our New Orleans Pelicans lost their NBA game with the Dallas Mavericks by the score of 83 to 86. And in their second College Softball game our LSU Lady Tigers lost their game with the Utah Utes by the score of 0 to 3; our #8 LSU Lady Tigers (12-3, 0-0) will be playing an Away College Softball game with the Southern Mississippi Lady Golden Eagles on Tuesday, February 28th, 2017.

When I woke up, I could not move at all with my sciatica and my hip, and I called in, which I hated having to do. Richard went to the casino. The Annular Solar Eclipse arrived at 8:55 am, and the New Moon arrived at 9:00 am. Richard arrived home at 10:00 am, having gotten out early at 7:30 am. I woke up at 10:00 am, did my Book Devotional Reading, and then ate my lunch salad and read the Sunday papers. I did a couple of Advance Daily Update Drafts for this weblog, then did my Internet Devotional Reading, then said the Seventh Day of my Lenten Novena. And I have been cold since before I woke up, with my hip spasming every so often, so I will finish today’s Daily Update and take a hot bath and do some reading before I go to bed. Our LSU Lady Tigers (18-10, 7-8) will be playing a Home College Basketball game with the Vanderbilt Lady Commodores (14-14, 4-11) in their last game before the SEC Tournament, our LSU Tigers (6-1, 0-0) will be playing a third College Baseball game with the Maryland Terrapins, and our New Orleans Pelicans (23-36, 3-8) will be playing an Away NBA game with the Oklahoma City Thunder (33-25, 3-6).

With no Saints to honor, tomorrow is Anosmia Awareness Day, a cause dear to my heart. (Anosmia is the condition of not having a sense of smell, either by birth or accident or illness; I am a congenital anosmiac, not ever having had a sense of smell, so if this weblog stinks, I will be about the last person to know about it.) And tomorrow is Lundi Gras (the day before Mardi Gras). We will work our eight hours at the casino, and in the afternoon I will probably take a nap.

Our Parting Quote on this Sunday afternoon comes to us from Theodore Hesburgh, American priest and college president. Born in 1917 in Syracuse, New York, he had wished to become a priest since early childhood. He enrolled at Notre Dame in 1934, but after three years he was relocated to Rome and in 1939 he earned a bachelor of philosophy degree from the Gregorian University. Because he was sent to Rome, Hesburgh never finished his Notre Dame degree. He studied in Rome until he was forced to leave due to the outbreak of World War II. In 1943 he was ordained a priest in the Congregation of Holy Cross at Sacred Heart Church, later renamed the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, at Notre Dame. He graduated from The Catholic University of America in 1945, having earned a Doctorate in Sacred Theology and taught Religion at Notre Dame, In 1948 he was named head of the Department of Theology. In 1949 Notre Dame president Rev. John J. Cavanaugh, C.S.C. appointed him executive vice-president and served in that position for three years. Hesburgh served as Notre Dame’s President for 35 years (1952–1987), the longest tenure to date. He supervised dramatic growth, as well as a transition to coeducation in 1972. During his term, the annual operating budget rose by a factor of 18 from $9.7 million to $176.6 million, the endowment rose by a factor of 40 from $9 million to $350 million, and research funding rose by a factor of 20 from $735,000 to $15 million. Enrollment nearly doubled from 4,979 to 9,600, faculty more than doubled 389 to 950, and degrees awarded annually doubled from 1,212 to 2,500. In 1953 he created the Distinguished Professors Program to attract top scholars to Notre Dame. He also served in a number of other posts on government commissions, non-profit organization boards, and Vatican missions. In 1954 he was appointed by President Eisenhower to the National Science Board. From 1956 until 1970 he served as the permanent Vatican representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. Hesburgh served as a member of the United States Civil Rights Commission from 1957 (appointed by president Eisenhower), and Chairman from 1969, until his dismissal by President Richard Nixon in 1972 due to his frequent opposition to Nixon policies. He was a contributor to the 1958 analysis of the U.S. education system, The Pursuit of Excellence, commissioned by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund as part of its Special Studies Project. In 1964 he was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest honor, by President Johnson. The same year he joined hands with Martin Luther King Jr. in support for civil rights during a rally in Chicago. In 1967 he turned governance of the University over to a two-tiered, mixed board of lay and religious trustees and fellows. That same year he led an academic movement which issued the so-called Land O’Lakes statement which insisted upon “true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical”.  Hesburgh was a key figure in anti-Vietnam War student activism. After discovering a student plot to burn the Notre Dame campus ROTC building in 1969, Hesburgh issued a letter to the student body outlining the University’s stance. The letter was later reprinted by the New York Times and Washington Post. At the request of President Richard Nixon, Hesburgh advised Vice President Spiro Agnew regarding controlling violence on college campuses. However, Hesburgh generally disagreed with American policy in Vietnam and favored accelerated withdrawal of the troops.  In 1968 he was appointed by Pope Paul VI as head of the Vatican representatives attending the 20th anniversary of the United Nations’ human rights declaration in Tehran, Iran. According to Rick Perlstein in Nixonland, Hesburgh was at one time considered by George McGovern as his running mate in the 1972 presidential election. In 1972 he organized the establishment of the Tantur Institute for Ecumenical Studies in Jerusalem, at the request of Pope Paul VI. In 1974 Paul VI appointed him as a member of the Holy See’s U.N. delegation. From 1977 to 1982 Hesburgh was chairman of the Rockefeller Foundation. President Jimmy Carter appointed him to a blue-ribbon immigration reform commission in 1979; the commission’s finding (that any national immigration reform proposals can succeed only if the American national border is properly secured beforehand) was cited by various opponents of illegal immigration to the United States, especially those who were Catholic or sympathetic to Catholic views.  In 1983 he was appointed to the Pontifical Council for Culture by Pope John Paul II. Notre Dame awarded him an honorary degree in 1984. In 1994 he was elected to chair the Harvard Board of Overseers, the first priest to do so. He was one of the founders of People for the American Way. Hesburgh served on the Knight Commission that overhauled college sports from 1990 to 1996.  In 2000 he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the first person from higher education to receive the honor. In 2004 he was named the first recipient of the NCAA’s Gerald R. Ford Award for leadership in intercollegiate athletics. In 2009 he supported the invitation for Barack Obama to speak at Notre Dame, which was controversial because of Obama’s strong endorsement of pro-choice legislation. His career included sixteen presidential appointments involving most major social issues of his time, including civil rights, peaceful uses of atomic energy, campus unrest, Third World development, and immigration reform. Hesburgh attained many accomplishments, honors, and awards in his public career and he was the recipient of over 150 honorary degrees, the most ever awarded to one person (died 2015): “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”


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