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Hungary village evacuated as new toxic flood 'likely'

Hungarian town mourns dead, missing in toxic sludge disaster
Kolontar, Hungary (AFP) Oct 8, 2010 - "I don't know what Janos is going do when he gets home from hospital and his poor wife is still missing," Janosne Takacs says with tears in her eyes. She and her husband are standing in front of what is left of the house of her 76-year-old cousin, Janosne Szanyi, who has been missing since a tidal wave of toxic sludge slammed through this tiny village in western Hungary four days ago. "They were out in the garden working, feeding the chickens and just getting on with their daily lives. And now Janos is in hospital with serious burns and Janosne is still missing," says Takacs, who is not from the village but used to visit her cousin regularly. "All their animals are missing, too. They were just washed away. I don't know what Janos is going to do after he recovers from hospital." Seven people from Kolontar died when the residue reservoir of an alumina processing plant in nearby Ajka burst, spewing out 1.1 million cubic metres of toxic sludge and causing an ecological catastrophe in the area.

Five of the victims have been identified. Two, whose bodies were found in another village Devecsar a few kilometres away, have not and one more person is still missing. It remains unclear whether Szanyi is the person still missing or whether she is one of the bodies that have been found in the sludge. Kolontar -- which is just a stone's throw away from the reservoir -- remains a scene of devastation. Cars that were overturned and swept away by the flood remain in the gardens and fields, broken furniture and debris are strewn everywhere. Police and soldiers have set up checkpoints to control who enters and leaves the area, with only rescue teams, local residents and journalists allowed to pass. The rain from earlier in the week has given way to sunshine, drying the remains of the caustic, foul-smelling mud that still covers everything into powder.

And those residents who have returned to try and salvage what is left of their belongings are wearing face masks so as not to inhale the dust. One of the volunteer rescue workers, who would only give his first name as Tibor, explained that the roads were being sprayed with water to hold the dust down, "otherwise we would be breathing this in all day long." The army has built a temporary bridge in the village to replace one that was washed away in the disaster. It was the area on the far side of the bridge that bore the brunt of the flood's force and the checkpoint to that part of the village remains closed. When Prime Minister Viktor Orban visited Kolontar earlier this week, he estimated it would be too difficult to rebuild that part of the village and a new area would have to cleared for reconstruction. But locals said they were probably not likely to return here anyway.
by Staff Writers
Budapest (AFP) Oct 9, 2010
Hungarian police and soldiers evacuated 800 villagers Saturday as authorities said a second flood of toxic sludge from a chemicals plant was likely after new cracks appeared in a dyke.

The villagers were evacuated at dawn from Kolontar, which is close to the reservoir that burst in western Hungary Monday, killing seven people, injuring scores more and poisoning rivers in the country's worst ecological disaster.

Security forces also warned thousands of residents in the nearby village of Devecser to be ready to be moved if necessary, officials said.

"The reservoir is so damaged that it is likely that it will give way for a second time," Prime Minister Viktor Orban said.

"If the dyke of the reservoir gives way, about 500,000 cubic metres will be released. Several cracks are visible from the north side of the reservoir," he said.

The first flood on October 4 released 1.1 million cubic metres (38.8 million cubic feet) of foul-smelling red toxic sludge into villages and rivers.

"The evacuation of Kolontar began at six in the morning (0400 GMT) after we noticed that the dam started weakening at tank number 10," Disaster Relief Team chief Tibor Dobson told AFP.

One of the new cracks was seven centimetres (three inches) wide, officials said.

The entire area was under surveillance, with helicopters with heat-detecting cameras in the air and 650 policemen on the ground co-ordinating rescue operations, the national police's website said.

"The police's primary tasks are keeping peace and order in the villages and the sealing off of the surrounding areas," it said.

The Kolontar villagers were taken by bus to Ajka, the nearest major town which is 160 kilometres (100 miles) from the capital Budapest.

Some were to stay with friends and relatives and those with nowhere else to go would be put up in the town's sports complex, officials said.

"There is despair and sadness, but no panic," said Orban in Ajka.

Police and army personnel were in Devecser, with a population of about 5,400, to urge people to pack all they need in one suitcase so they could leave quickly if necessary, Dobson said.

Dozens of army trucks and buses were on standby.

"We are prepared for the worst and we can save the residents of Devecser in case of a new spill," the prime minister said.

Work was under way to build a new dam in Kolontar, in case of a new flood, to save those houses that were undamaged in the previous disaster, the Hungarian News Agency MTI reported.

The dam would be four to five metres (around 13 to 16 feet) high and made of earth and rocks, and would be ready in 48 hours.

The death toll rose to seven on Friday, with one person still missing. The dead include a 14-month-old girl.

Around 150 people have been injured, many suffering deep burns, and include some of the first firemen on the scene after the flood.

The prime minister said meanwhile there would be "consequences" after the unprecedented disaster, raising the possibility of action against MAL Hungarian Aluminium Production and Trade Company running the plant.

Nature protection organisation WWF meanwhile said Saturday that the reservoir had been leaking for months, publishing photographs on its website dating back to June.

The pollution already wiped out all life in the smaller Marcal tributary and experts say it will take up to five years for that river to recover.

Officials have insisted there was little risk for the Danube, Europe's second-longest river after the Volga.

Water samples taken Friday in the Danube above Budapest revealed a marked decrease in pollution levels with near-normal alkali, but the ecosystem of the Danube is still threatened.

The countries bordering the Danube, including Slovakia, Croatia, Serbia and Romania, have started regular checks of the river's water quality.

The Hungarian government has set up a website to deliver information about the disaster at

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Hungary plays down toxic spill threat, toll rises to seven
Budapest (AFP) Oct 8, 2010
Hungarian officials on Friday played down the threat of disastrous pollution to the Danube river from an industrial accident in Hungary, while its prime minister said the situation was under control. The death toll from Monday's disaster meanwhile rose to seven, officials said, and one person was still missing. Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who declared a state of emergency in three count ... read more

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