On October 21, 1966, a mudslide wreaked havoc in Aberfan, Wales when it buried an elementary schooling, killing 148 people. Most of the victims were young students who were at the school during that time. The school just so happened to be located below the hill of a dump site that was being used by a mining operation then.
Many of the Aberfan village residents depended on the place’s mining industry for their needs. The coal mine Merthyr Vale Colliery which was privatized by the National Coal Board in 1947 provided jobs to a substantial portion of their population. However, the residents did so, not fully aware that this would soon contribute to the demise of some. Merthyr Vale produced a total of 36 tons of ash, coal waste, and sludge in just a day’s work. The workers piled these up in what was called a “tip.” The largest tip created by the Merthyr Vale was piled as high as 700 feet at the time that the incident occurred. Down below from where this tip lies sat a small farm, some homes, and the Pant Glas elementary school.
Before the October 21st incident, heavy rain devastated the area. Some of the miners saw some cracks in the tip but dismissed it, not knowing that these would cause trouble to some of the rest of them in a few days’ time. The location of the accident was covered by a thick fog on the day of the incident; it was a dark and damp day for everyone. By 9:00AM, disaster struck. The mine workers heard a loud noise and through the fog, saw that the tip was gone.
Moments later, the tip quickly came crashing to the hillside below, debilitating the farm, school, and eight homes. The site instantly became a frightening scene, engulfed in a cloud of black dust. Outside the school revealed a pile of muddy sludge that was 45 feet deep. The school was buried by most of it. There were 250 people in the school when the incident happened; more than half of them were pronounced missing after the crash. Some of the victims whose lives were taken by the avalanche ended up with mutilated bodies. Most of the survivors suffered from serious injuries.
Parents and rescue workers rushed to the site hoping that they’d be able to rescue some of the victims. They dug through the debris, trying to find the children. The last survivor was pulled out two hours later. Six days later, they were able to dig out the other corpses, 116 of which were children. It was a tearful moment for everyone especially when their rescue revealed the body of the head teacher with five of the children nestled in his arms.
Britain’s prime minister came to visit the scene afterwards and promised that an investigation would be conducted. Five months later, they found out through the investigation and testimonies of the witnesses that the tip prevented water from naturally flowing down the hill as it normally should. What happened then was that the mud in the tip acted like a sponge and absorbed the rainwater. When it reached its saturation point, pressure built up and caused the cracks until it can longer sustain it. The site was converted into a park after the incident.