A FLOOD of toxic red sludge from an aluminium plant has engulfed seven villages in Hungary, destroying houses, cars and vegetation and killing at least four people.
Residents on Kolontar are angry and distraught, their homes and lives destroyed by the flood, the future uncertain amid fears of rivers and crops being poisoned, the topsoil contaminated.
“Who is the culprit, who is the culprit?” demanded a man in his forties in Kolontar, one of seven villages swamped by the flood that has killed four people with six missing.
This man, who did not give his name, escaped only because he had been away from home, taking his wife to hospital, when the red tide arrived.
“My wife is very ill, she was taken to the hospital … when I came back, I found the house in ruins … empty … lost everything,” he wept.
The government has declared a state of emergency in three western counties most damaged by the poisonous flood from a reservoir at an aluminum plant that broke its walls on Monday, and labelled the disaster a “catastrophe”.
It spared nothing, everything was swept away: cars, lawnmowers, cows, cats and dogs.
“I found my blue (Volkswagen) Golf 100 metres from my garden,” said a young woman trying to salvage what she could from her home.
The tide was as high as 2m and its stain has left a clear mark on everything it touched – walls, refrigerators, cabinets, sofas.
Besides the dead – two children aged under three years, an elderly woman, and a man whose car was overturned – another six people were missing, authorities said.
Around 120 people were injured, with officials saying the sludge could cause burns to the skin and blindness, and there are fears the death toll could rise.
The reservoir, in the town of Ajka around 160km west of the capital Budapest, broke its walls for unknown reasons and dumped about one million cubic metres into surrounding villages.
Seven villages were swamped and mud entered rivers.
Officials have called it the country’s worst-ever chemical accident.
As the investigation begins into the causes of the disaster and the extent of the damage, villagers are asking when they can return home, when they can rebuild.
But the government warns that with the soil contaminated, it could take months before things return to normal.