Hungary spill leaves locals hopeless, anger mounts

The mood in the Hungarian village of Kolontar has turned quickly from shock to anger, days after a toxic red sludge tore through streets wrecking houses, sweeping away cars and killing at least four people.

"If you won't even own up to it now, just what do you think you're doing here then?" a woman screamed at a director of the local alumina factory. "Why don't you take off your shoes and walk back to your factory right through the mess you caused?"

Villagers had gathered at a meeting on a hill overlooking the red-stained wasteland that had been their home. The director from MAL Zrt, the alumina producer whose reservoir burst its dam on October 4. unleashing the red tide, was making little headway.

"I feel that MAL has done everything it could to alleviate the damage," MAL director Jozsef Deak said. "We will need to wait for the end of the investigation to establish precise responsibilities."

The soft-spoken words of the director, amplified through the speakers of a police car, left many villagers growling.

There is nothing but 2 Km of flat farmland between Kolontar and the reservoir. When the dam burst, a terrible noise was followed by a surging tide of sludge that swept all before it.

Walls and lamp posts were stained red to a height of 3 meters. Fences lay shattered, trees were uprooted, and objects as heavy as cars were swept away like wind-up toys.

Crushed in Pigsty

MAL Zrt said there had been no sign of the impending disaster, adding that the last inspection of the reservoir on Monday had shown nothing wrong.

At least four people died, all well-known names here. Around 150 were injured and three are still missing.

"My neighbor... he heard the tide coming and rushed to the pigsty to get the animals outside," said Ferenc Steszli, a 60 year-old retiree. "His mother helped him."

"They weren't fast enough. That vile river crushed them inside the pigsty, together with the pigs. He's still missing. She was found something like 500 meters away, in the middle of the corn field back there."

Like many of the others left homeless, Steszli idled about near the shell of his house.

He said he tried to look at the bright side of things: he was still alive. But his smile was pained.

"I just retired in September, after 43 years of work," he said. "I was so looking forward to harvest, and making my first batch of wine. But my barrels are all destroyed now... as are my vines. Sometimes I curse the day I was born.

[Source: By Marton Dunai, Reuters, Kolontar, Hungary, 09oct10]

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