For most people this disaster is a horrific part of West Virginia history but for Roger Osborne, who lost 26 members of his extended family that day, it’s a cold reality he is forced to live with everyday.
"It literally wiped it clean, nothing left," Osborne said.
Osborne was in his bed after completing a second shift in the coal mine. His house was in Lundale, about two miles from the mouth of a dam that held back more 132 million gallons of black mining waste.
Osborne’s neighbor worked on the dam. Just after 8 o’clock on Feb. 26, his neighbor’s wife drove down the holler laying on the horn yelling for people to get out.
"She said the dam’s broke get out of here. Then came the water, it was just a big wave," Osborne said.
Osborne grabbed his wife and three daughters and threw them into his Chevy Caprice.
"When I backed out of my driveway, the water was on the back glass," he said.
He started driving and then heard his mother yelling from behind the fence. He went back and pulled her over. They drove up the hill to find higher ground and looked back at the flooded valley.
"I saw houses and cars going by and people screaming,” Osborne said. “There were people on housetops, and I saw people in the water. They were screaming and yelling for help, but you couldn’t help. The water was just too high."
Helpless, Osborne held onto what family he had left. He lost 26 relatives. The 60 foot wave swept away aunts, uncles and several cousins.
"Dallas got crippled up in the coal mines," Osborne said. "He was in a wheelchair. His son tried to get him out in the car and they could not; the water got them all. There were five in that family."
Osborn says it is also hard to think about the fate of many of his neighbors.
"I was on the hillside, and her house was starting to crumble and she had her baby in her arms," he said. "But how you going to get to someone out in a big wave like that? You can’t get to them. They lost their whole family too."
After the black water calmed, the nightmare wasn’t over for Roger Osborne.
"They asked me to go through the morgue and identify who I could. Some of them didn’t have any heads."
Osborn had to verify that the toe tags attached to his family members were in fact who the tag read.
"She was a large woman," Osborne said. "Her shoulder was almost cut off. They taped their hands up so you couldn’t see their hands."
It took him years of therapy to learn to cope with the experience. He says his daughters had nightmares, terrified the water would come again.
He moved three times and finally found a place to call home in Wyoming County. His house is perched high on a hill.
Osborne says he tries to block out most of 1972 as he continues to struggle through the daily challenges of life.
His first wife has died and now his second wife and daughter are both recovering from surgery.
Despite all of his struggles, Osborn says, his faith has pulled him through.
"God blessed us, he had to," Osborne said.