On Tuesday efforts have begun to restore the sludge reservoir dam following Monday’s red sludge disaster. Thus far the catastrophe has three victims dead with four others sought and missing. Burn victims are arriving on a continuous basis in hospitals. Inundated with red sludge, rumors infected Kolontár about another dam bursting. The government declared a state of emergency in three counties; many members of the government are on their way to the site. In close-by creeks, disaster defence is defending against the base contamination with acidic material and the police have begun to interview witnesses.
“The restoration of the damaged portion of the sludge reservoir dam has begun,” announced the Magyar Alumínium Termelő és Kereskedelmi (MAL) Zrt (Hungarian Aluminum Producer and Commerce Corp) Tuesday afternoon. The company released a statement nearly a day after the red sludge spilling from its reservoir caused immense damage to neighbouring settlements. According to the company, initial estimates show that 96-98% of the red sludge remained in the reservoir; the cleanup of the road leading to the damaged Casette X has been partially completed and injection moulding has begun to eliminate additional spills.
According to the company they could not have detected the signs of the natural disaster or done anything to prevent it even in careful compliance with the technical procedure. “The last physical inspection and the analysis of the last laboratory water sample within the wall gap did not show any sign of the coming disaster,” states the press release. According to the company the disaster was caused by the corner of the cassette slipping on the clay foundation.
|In its press release, MAL Zrt consistently refers to the industrial accident as a “natural disaster;” according to them this is a unique event in the history of Bayer-type alumina production. The company announced that it considers “the continuous credible notification of the public its duty in this matter” while at the same time only promising further information “in a couple of days” concerning how the alleviation efforts and necessary additional steps. They also noted that according to EU’s waste standard red sludge is not considered a hazardous waste.|
According to the reporter [of origo] the sludge reservoir which has caused the disaster in the outskirts of Kolontár has been completely drained by Tuesday morning. The dam burst relatively far from the road; the neighbourhood was sealed off until the morning, the people were waiting for machinery they could use to commence the rescue work. In the neighbourhood of the burst dam, the sludge inundated a plot of agricultural land, also felling an electric pole. A man who participated in the rescue effort told [to origo] that once the work equipment arrives at the site they shall construct a protective line in front of the burst dam, to hold back potential additional seepage. According to the man sludge drained from the reservoir over the course of an hour and a half on Monday, but if it rains more, the precipitation may wash additional sludge overland.
The spilled red sludge due to Monday’s dam burst of the Ajka alumina factory’s sludge reservoire inundated three settlements – Devecser, Kolontár, Somlóvásárhely – and many people have been relocated. Emergency medical personnel have treated 120 injured by the evening; two remain in critical condition.
Three dead, thirteen critically injured
“Special emergency medical and disaster relief personnel are continuously searching for missing persons; currently they are still searching for four people,” said Károly Tili, Kolontár’s mayor. According to Mónika Bényi, the spokesperson for the National Police, based on the settlement’s census information they are searching for women of 76, 82 and 85 years of age and a 73 year old man. At the moment it is unknown if they were victims of the disaster or if they were not even at home when the sludge burst through the dam.
According to Tili, contrary to prior information, they have not yet found fresh corpses at the red sludge covered settlements; they continue to be aware of only three victims. Information on a fourth deceased, a baby, has been confirmed by police in the morning, but minutes later they retracted their notice: the Police Department of Veszprem County informed [origo] that the little boy, erroneously believed dead, is in the hospital in Veszprem and he is alive.
All of the victims thus far are residents of Kolontár. One of them is a little girl, 14 months old; the circumstances of her death are being investigated. The first victim of the sludge was a Kolontár man in his 30s; presumably he was driving to join the rescue effort when the flood of sludge surged over him. The second victim is an elderly woman; her corpse was recovered from under the ruins of a collapsed house in Kolontár. According to OKF’s (National Directorate General for Disaster Management) György Bakos, no new injuries have been reported as of dawn.
According to Independent News Agency information a fresh fourth corpse has been discovered in Kolontár sometime around noon. According to the news agency, firefighters from Ajka found the deceased sometime around noon on Tuesday; firefighters transported the doctor on-call to the cordoned off area, to Kossuth Lajos street. The doctor determined the time of death, thus the number of the victims of the red sludge disaster officially rose to four. The Veszprém county police only confirmed [to origo] that the coroner inquest is being performed.
The injured are arriving on a continuous basis
“Altogether 23 injured have been transported to the hospital in Veszprem from the disaster area, of whom 13 suffered serious injuries,” commented the Director of the hospital, Jeno Racz, to the Indendent News Agency. The severe cases include that of a small child who had suffered permanent injury; his eye was injured. He also swallowed some of the sludge so his esophagus was damaged.
“Injured are continuously arriving at the hospital in Ajka; thus far more than 70 injured, mainly burn victims, have been admitted,” told the Ildiko Nyari, the Director of the Hospital, to the Independent News Agency on Tuesday. One of the injuries included a very severe case: 60 percent of the elderly patient’s skin surface burned. He was immediately connected to a medical ventilator and transported to the hospital in Győr. Half of the others did not require inpatient care, therefore they were given outpatient care and sent home. Currently 23-30 injured are hospitalised; their injuries are intermediate-mild.
In two Budapest hospitals patients who have suffered chemical burns due to Monday’s sludge spill from the burst dam in the Ajka region are being treated. According to the Director of the Hospital-Clinic and Trauma Centre of Péterfy Sandor street, Emil Budaházy, eight injured have arrived at the institution, with one of them already having received outpatient care and consequently discharged from the hospital. An additional seven people are held with mild injuries. MTI (Hungarian News Agency) believes that ten patients are treated at Honvedkorhaz (Honved Hospital); of the ten, three of them are in critical condition.
According to the Junior Minister, the company must pay
The government declared a state of danger for the territory of Veszprém, Győr-Moson-Sopron and Vas counties. Multiple members of the government are on their way to the site. Deputy Prime Minister of Hungary Tibor Navracsics is on his way to the vicinity of Ajka, the Minister of Public Administration and Justice, Minister of the Interior Sándor Pintér, and György Bakondi, the head of the National Directorate General for Disaster Management. Government spokesperson Anna Nagy is also accompanying them.
On Tuesday, Zoltán Illés, Junior Minister for Environmental Affairs stated that it was just blind luck that the denser grey sludge did not yet burst from the reservoir. He added that he believes that the danger of damage to additional reservoirs does exist. The most important mission is to shore up the 30-50 metre tall reservoir and halt the spillage of sludge. “This can happen using machinery or from the air, using helicopters, but it will take days,” he said.
According to Illes the government shall provide all possible assistance to eliminate the ecological catastrophe which developed in the Ajka region; the company which was the cause must pay for these costs, however. He spoke about this issue after the Tuesday meeting of the defence committee. He believed that “the company which caused the damage must bear the entire cost; if it does not have sufficient capital to do so, it must be provided by the Hungarian government, or the support of the European Union must be requested.”
Horror stories about another burst dam
Emergency rescue efforts continued overnight in the Veszprem county settlements which were inundated with red sludge. “A large portion of the villages have been taken off the electric grid due to the sludge spill, so during the night many places lacked even street lighting, making the work of rescue workers even more difficult,” commented the National Directorate General for Disaster Management (OKF).
The deputy spokesperson of the Főváros Közterület-fenntartó Zrt. (Capital Public Areas Maintenance Corp) reported that the company transported drinking water in five watering trucks to the disaster affected region at dawn on Tuesday. The convoy, consisting of watering trucks, is transporting 7-8 thousand litres of drinking water per vehicle, to be used for cleaning the contaminated roads. According to the Tuesday morning report of the company, the supply of drinking water at the settlements is already ensured.
“Every single sludge reservoir dam has been reinforced overnight, thus the threat of another burst dam has been eliminated,” told disaster management spokesperson György Bakos to MTI’s (Hungarian News Agency) on-site reporter. Nevertheless, constant rumors are floating about in Kolontár about another dam bursting. The latest news was denied by on-call county emergency personnel as well as by the local mayor. According to Bakos many reservoirs contain denser, more massive sludge; in case that spills, they would not cause damage as severe as Monday’s burst dam which overwhelmed the settlements with watery sludge, with great momentum descending an elevated position.
The river is defended with acid
It is not just the settlements which require emergency rescue; the rivers also must be defended from contamination. “Due to the spillage of sludge third degree alert has been declared on Monday night for the entire length of the Marcal, including the Torna creek, a tributary of the river,” stated the head of the Trans Danubian Directorate of Environmental Protection and Water Affairs. It is expected that the decree shall remain in force until Wednesday. “To reduce the base chemical effect of red sludge, disaster management poured acidifer fluid into the Marcal river at three locations at three times,” they reported.
The police is interviewing witnesses
The police is continuing the criminal investigation that was started as a result of the red sludge tragedy with the interviewing of witnesses and the inclusion of experts. “At the moment the proceedings do not have a suspect,” said Mónika Bényi, the spokesperson of the National Police; she said the police commenced a criminal proceeding for the suspicion of negligent endangerment committed during the course of employment and resulting in the death of human beings. The detectives involve experts in their work: currently they are interviewing witnesses and are investigating those documents that were earlier seized from the company operating the reservoir.
All road sections previously closed because of the sludge flood can be traversed in Veszprém county, thus Devecser may be approached from the direction of Somlóvásárhely as well as from Ajka. “In the outskirts of Kolontár and Devecser the police established control checkpoints; they are only letting local residents through to the settlements inundated by the sludge,” stated the Veszprem County police department on Tuesday morning.
School is canceled
Red sludge generated as a waste product of alumina production is a very caustic, basic material, therefore it causes burn injuries and is extremely dangerous. “In mitigating the disaster and in the rescue operations, due to the sludge, eight firefighters, one police officer and one soldier have been injured; of those, only one police officer was kept for observation,” said the on-call representative of Disaster Management.
Many metres tall, the red sludge still remained in multiple sections of Devecser – reported MTI’s on-location reporter. Dozens of military vehicles are lining the streets in town; police officers wearing protective masks are directing traffic. Tamás Toldi, the mayor of Devecser, said that the houses inundated with sludge are guarded by police officers; school is canceled on Tuesday as 40 locals and rescue experts have been housed in the school building.
In the castle park, the deeper lying agricultural fields and on the streets, sludge remains, many metres deep; the firefighters are attempting to overcome the crimson sea of mud with pumps. According to the Mayor the town residents do not require protective masks, as the radioactive emission of red sludge – containing heavy metals – is insignificant.
The defence committee will reconvene at 8:30 AM to discuss a plan of action. After the meeting, Jenő Lesztovicza, the chairman of the county defence committee, at his press conference stated that the defence committee will reconvene at 1 PM again; they also invited the management of the company operating the sludge reservoir, MAL Zrt. “They expect the company to present their plan for the rescue and for the rebuilding,” said Lasztovica, noting that until now the managers of the company were not very eager to attend these meetings. [origo’s] on-site reporter met with one of the deputy chief executives of the company at one of the reservoirs, but the executive very firmly refused to answer any questions.