Pain in the wake of catastrophe can be as elusive as pain in illness. Kai Erikson argues that the events of catastrophe such as the flooding of Buffalo Creek Virginia cause a syndrome which includes pains such as numbness, reliving of the event, familial loss, loss of community as well as many others. The problem that arises from such a catastrophe is how to handle the pain suffered by its victims. Veena Das and Elaine Scarry argue that pain is unshareable but it also calls for attention. Through an extensive look into Kai Erikson’s piece on the events that took place in Buffalo Creek and the leading literature on pain it becomes clear that recognition and generalizability of victims pain and suffering is impossible to validate and because of this disaster relief efforts are greatly impaired.
Buffalo Creek is a coal mining town in the Appalachia of Virginia. The town revolves around coal mining. Generations upon generations have benefitted from the plethora of coal the mountains provided. However, along with the plethora of coal came an immense amount of coal by-products one of which being coal slurry. Coal companies had for years dumped the massive amounts of toxin filled water-coal slush down the sides of the mountains into nearby streams and mountainsides. In Buffalo Creek, the Buffalo Mining Company “used more than a half million gallons of water a day to clean the four thousand tons of coal it loaded onto railroads (Erikson, 25).” The company used the landscape of the mountains and the left over debris which was compacted together by bulldozers to create a man-made impoundment, or “dam,” as the town-people called it. This man-made structure held back a whopping 132 million gallons of toxic coal sludge. By creating a lake of this sludge, the company was able to reuse the water which had been somewhat filtered as the particles of debris settled to the bottom of the impoundment.
On the night of February 26, 1972 the coal mining community of Buffalo Creek would be drastically changed. Just before 8pm the heavy downpour of rain and the sheer amount of sludge being contained proved too much for the man-made wall of the impoundment. The dam wall gave way releasing the 132 million gallons of black coal water. On its way down the banks below the sludge picked up even more refuse and solids as it traveled. As the sludge hit the towns below it added cars, houses, and any other materials in its mighty wake. Entire families were swept under the immense black waves and many lives were taken in the flood. This disaster left behind only suffering for the people of Buffalo Creek.
Elaine Scarry argues that the main difficulty with pain is that it is nearly impossible to express. Scarry argues that the language of pain is that of analogies, “it is as if…” or “it is like.” She states that it has no referential content, and that it is because it takes no form that it is so hard to describe through language. In one testimonial that...