New wave of toxic sludge feared in Hungary

THE cracking wall of an industrial plant reservoir appeared on the verge of collapse in the Hungarian town of Devecser yesterday.

Engineers were working to blunt a possible second wave of the caustic red sludge that has already killed seven people after swamping towns in western Hungary.

Engineers feared a second wave could be even more toxic than the first because the sludge remaining in the reservoir was more concentrated.

“If another wave comes, I was thinking of standing on top of the kitchen table,” said Maria Gyori, 79, a homemaker in the town of Devecser. Maybe the sludge won’t go that high.”

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the northern wall of the storage pool, which released at least 700,000 cubic metres of sludge last Monday after one of its corners ruptured, was showing numerous cracks and seemed ready to fail completely.

“There’s no technical equipment that could really stop this process and the only thing we can do is prepare ourselves to stop the damage it would cause,” he said.

Engineers were building retaining walls around the previous breach and the weakened wall of the reservoir just outside Kolontar, the town hardest hit by the sludge flood. Kolontar’s nearly 800 residents were evacuated as a preventive measure.

The highly polluted water and mud flooded three villages in less than an hour last week, burning people and animals. At least seven people were killed and at least 120 were injured. Several of those were in serious condition in hospital.

The roughly 6000 residents of Devecser, 4km north of Kolontar, were told by police to pack a single bag and get ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

The Prime Minister said experts had estimated that 500,000 cubic metres of red sludge could escape from the reservoir if the wall collapsed, but he said exact figures were hard to calculate.

“We have no exact information about the nature of the material because a catastrophe like this has never happened before anywhere in the world,” Mr Orban said at a fire station in Ajka, a city where many Kolontar residents were taken.

“We have only assumptions about how far and with how much force the material can come out of the storage container.”

The BBC reported that in the Marcal River, one of the feeder streams to the Danube, “all life . . . is said to have been extinguished.” It said emergency crews were adding gypsum and other chemicals to try to reduce the toxicity in another feeder, the Raba River.

Monitors were taking samples every few hours to measure damage from the spill but the volume of water in the Danube appeared to be blunting the sludge’s immediate impact.

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