Toxic spill rescues continue

 

Hungarian crews are working to prevent seepage from a sludge reservoir of an alumina plant in west of the country today as rescue units search for missing people in a flooded village.

A state of emergency was declared in three counties yesterday 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.

"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," said Gyorgy Bakondi, head of the National Disaster Unit (NDU).

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 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 metres, swept cars off roads and damaged bridges and houses, forcing the evacuation of about 500 residents.

Disaster crews are expected to open the streets of Kolontar which had been so far closed off by the flood later today, 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."

The Hungarian government suspended production at the plant of MAL Zrt yesterday and police are investigating what may have caused the disaster.

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

Agencies