21 October 2019 14:41
Thousands of tons of coal pit waste slid down onto the tiny village of Aberfan in southern Wales, wrecking homes and engulfing an entire school building - leaving dozens of children trapped. Hundreds of rescue workers rushed to help the rescue mission, digging into a huge pile of rubble of the demolished school. A total of 144 people died in the horrific disaster. When was the Aberfan disaster? The Aberfan disaster took place at around 9.15am on October 21, 1966.
The Aberfan disaster began with the catastrophic collapse of a colliery spoil tip. The tip had been created on a mountain slope above the Welsh village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil, and overlaid a natural spring. After a long build-up of water within the site, the tip suddenly gave way and slid downhill as a slurry - crashing into the village below with harrowing consequences. What happened in the Aberfan disaster? Aberfan disaster: A man stands in the road which has been filled with rubble READ MORE Aberfan disaster that left 144 dead to be made into TV series The avalanche struck Pantglas Junior School on Moy Road, demolishing the outer structure and filling classrooms with thick mud and rubble.
A total of 116 children and 28 adults were killed in the disaster, as the tip engulfed the school and the destruction spread, crashing into other nearby buildings. Speaking at the time, the acting headmaster of the secondary school said: "The Girls' Entrance was approximately two-thirds to three-quarters full of rubble and waste material... When I looked directly in front of me, I saw that the houses in Moy Road had vanished in a mass of tip-waste material and that the Junior School gable-ends, or part of the roof, were sticking up out of this morass. Aberfan disaster: The slag heap collapsed on the village Aberfan disaster: Hundreds of people helped the rescue mission Aberfan disaster: The local junior school was destroyed The chairman of Aberfan Memorial Charity, David Davies, said it was of "great comfort". He added: "The bereaved, the injured, the survivors and the wider community have always been touched that our fellow citizens in Wales, the UK and indeed around the world have not forgotten what happened in Aberfan. "That wider empathy swept into our community like a huge wave of loving support most recently in 2016 and the 50th anniversary." Aberfan disaster: The inside of a classroom after the collapse A personal view: News from Wales Editor Lisa Baker reflects on the lessons of Aberfan disaster. Every year another anniversary passes, pictures of the horrific Aberfan disaster are shared on social media and the Welsh rightfully mourn our dead. I hope their memory reminds us to avoid complacency and heed warnings, too. So many people in South Wales lost someone on 21 October 1966, as a mining tip sited above a natural spring subsided. The tip slid full-force down the mountain into the local school, with the loss of 144 lives, most of them young children. Though many of them have now also passed, the horrific memories of Aberfan would haunt the first responders who came to the aid of the survivors for the rest of their lives. I hope, along with the tears, tweets and hashtags today, the lessons are remembered. Disasters happen. Aberfan was an entirely predictable consequence of an enterprise that continued despite being made aware of the risk – not just my view, but the findings of a tribunal who blamed the event on a "bungling ineptitude by many men" that had failed to heed clear warnings about the mining tip, perched precariously on the side of Mynydd Merthyr. Warnings came in 1964 from local councillor Gwyneth Williams, who had warned that if there were a landslip it would threaten the school and the children within it. Just two years before the disaster two mothers had given a petition to the school, with concerns over flooding, and also passed it to the local council. Waterworks engineer DCW Jones also sent a letter to a colleague and the National Coal Board in 1963, expressing concern about the tip. Even the headmaster, who also perished in the disaster, had issued warnings about the dangers of the tip. The National Coal Board took no action. Anyone that thinks the villagers were properly supported would be shocked on doing some research – Wales Online did just that in 2016. The charitable Disaster Fund, set up to support the families, was ordered to pay the costs of removing the remaining Aberfan tips in 1968 – not the negligent coal board. Remember that when you share the #Aberfan hashtag today, because these families deserve the truth to be remembered alongside their loss. Professor Iain McClean, who raised funds for the villagers, went on to do extensive research into why Aberfan went unpunished. "The NCB and its senior officers escaped scot-free because the governments of the late 1960s and early 1970s needed their help in the 'high politics' of running down the coal industry without provoking a national strike. Therefore, policymakers thought that it would be futile to make the NCB pay the environmental (or even the direct) costs of the disaster, as such a payment would merely increase its deficit, which fell to be funded out of general taxation in any case." It's easier for modern business owners, managers, leaders and politicians to tweet and hashtag their support than to prevent other manmade 'disasters'. Only a few months ago, two men left their homes close to where I live to work on the railways. Two lovely men lost their lives and two families have been left devastated as a result, leaving the local community in shock. 147 Workers were killed in workplace accidents in the year 2018/19, and 92 members of the public also died. Whoever is responsible, complacency is never good enough, because sooner or later, the inevitable, predictable, almost always happens. If Aberfan does not already strike a chord on the need to stamp out complacency, it should – but we are facing an even greater risk today that so far is being ignored. A 2017 report in the journal Nature predicted that by 2100, 75% of people around the world would be exposed to heatwaves extreme enough to kill. Even if Governments are not listening, everyday people are. While the Extinction Rebellion marches have the loudest voice in the Capital, across the world, everyday people are giving up their weekends to call for change. Like the NCB in the early sixties, we are ignoring the warnings and hoping it won't happen. By all means remember Aberfan today, the children, the teachers, the rescuers, the bereaved families – they deserve that. However, take a minute to ponder too, the cost of complacency and the shocking way these families were treated by a system that failed to value them – and resolve to do better. If we don't remember that, and apply the lessons, we learned nothing.