Hungary crews search for missing after red mud spill

Last Updated: Wednesday, October 6, 2010 - 18:17

Kolontar: Hungarian crews were working to prevent seepage from a sludge reservoir of an alumina plant in western Hungary on Wednesday as rescue units searched for missing people in a flooded village.

Hungary declared a state of emergency in three counties on Tuesday, a day after a torrent of toxic red sludge from an alumina plant tore through local villages, killing four people and injuring 120. Three people were reported missing.

Gyorgy Bakondi, head of the National Disaster Unit (NDU) told TV2 on Wednesday morning:

"There are three main tasks for us today: one of them is that we should close the burst in the dam by the afternoon, that`s very important," Bakondi said.

He said crews were also cleaning off the red sludge -- a waste produced during bauxite refining which has a strong caustic effect -- from the walls of houses, and off streets.

"The third key thing is the protection of waters ... this requires a very intensive intervention," he added.

The red sludge poured through the village of Kolontar and two other villages in western Hungary on Monday after bursting out of a huge containment reservoir at the Ajkai Timfoldgyar Zrt plant, owned by MAL Zrt.

On Tuesday, the Natural Disaster Unit (NDU) said four more villages were affected.

Many people had suffered from burns and eye irritations caused by lead and other corrosive elements in the mud. The flood, estimated at about 700,000 cubic meters (24 million cubic feet), swept cars off roads and damaged bridges and houses, forcing the evacuation of about 500 residents.

On Wednesday, disaster crews were expected to open streets of Kolontar which had been so far closed off by the flood, allowing residents to return for some of their belongings.

Bulldozers were clearing away the rubble.

"I`m waiting to finally be able to return to my house, but I don`t think I`ll ever move back here," said Balazs Holczer, 35.

"My wife and my son were trapped inside the house during the spill. She put him on top of a cabinet, and she was seriously burned from the waist down...they are both in hospital, my son is still in a shock. He says he doesn`t ever want to come back because he feels safe in the hospital."

Investigation

On Tuesday, the government suspended production at the plant of MAL Zrt and police were investigating what may have caused the disaster.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said the spill may have been caused by human error and there was no sign of it being due to natural causes.

MAL Zrt said in a statement on Tuesday there had been no sign of the impending disaster, adding the last inspection of the reservoir on Monday had shown nothing untoward.

Clean-up crews were pouring plaster into a nearby river to help neutralize the spill and strong attempts were being made to prevent the sludge getting into the Danube river.

Interior Minister Sandor Pinter said on Tuesday that there was a good chance to prevent the spill reaching the Danube.

A Greenpeace expert has told Reuters the impact from the mud spill could be much worse than a cyanide spill at Baia Mare in Romania ten years ago, when cyanide-tainted water was discharged from a gold mine reservoir, polluting the Tisza and Danube rivers.

Bureau Report



First Published: Wednesday, October 6, 2010 - 18:17

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