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Aberfan Disaster (Aberfan, Merthyr Tydfil, Wales)

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On Friday, 21 October 1966, at 09:15, colliery waste tip number 7 (containing unwanted rock from the local coal mine) slid down Merthyr Mountain. As it collapsed, it destroyed twenty houses and a farm, before going on to demolish virtually all of Pantglas Junior School and part of the separate adjacent senior school. The pupils had just left the assembly hall, where they had been singing "All Things Bright and Beautiful", when a great noise was heard outside. Had they left for their classrooms a few minutes later, the loss of life would have been significantly reduced, as the classrooms were on the side of the building nearest the landslide. In total 144 people were killed, 116 of whom were children mostly between the ages of 7 and 10. Five teachers were also killed in the accident. Only a handful of children were rescued from the rubble.

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      21.10.2006 08:08
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      Please take the time to remember..

      A is for Aberfan.
      -----------------------------

      A Heart rendering Disaster in Welsh History.

      I have decided to dedicate this review to the memories of the 144 people who lost there lives in the tragedy that hit the small mining community of Aberfan 40 years ago today. I feel it only right to write a review on this sad story so that we can all take the time to remember how lucky we all are and that we should always remember those who lost there lives through this avoidable disaster.

      It all happened 40 years ago on the 21st October 1966, just before the children were due to break up for there half term holiday. Pantglas Junior School had just finished singing 'All Things Bright and Beautiful' and were returning to there classrooms after morning assembly when the Gigantic wave of black sludge approximately 40 meters high, containing approximately half a million tons of colliery waste came rumbling down the mountainside engulfing the school and 21 nearby homes before finally coming to a halt. The cause was down to the fact that there was an underground spring that nobody was aware of slowly loosening the slurry and this was not helped by two previous days of heavy rain. The slurry became so wet that it just began to slide down the mountainside like a black river of mud.
      The slurry totally buried a farm killing all its occupants and buried just over half of the school. In total 116 children were killed in the school that day and five teachers. It was a disaster that could have and should have been avoided. The stories of some of the men, women and children who survived that day have been recorded and it is a story that will send tremors down anyone's spine. If you should wish to read these stories please take the time to visit:- http://www.nuff.ox.ac.uk/politics/aberfan/chap1.htm where they are all listed for all to read and try to understand the horrors of that day.

      The mountain moved and ground to a halt in a mere 5 minutes from start to finish but the hurt and pain will live on forever. The teacher and children in the school had no time to escape the river of slurry and no warning of the event. Immediately after the river stopped not a sound could be heard not even a child’s cry, but the rest of the day saw men from the mines, police and mothers and fathers united in the effort to save the children. They had hardly any tool and were digging with there bare hands until they bled as they tried to rescue the children, some of whom were there own sons and daughters. A generation was wiped out in that 5-minute landslide and all the children who died were all aged between 7 and 10 years of age. It makes you realise why even strangers who were there on that day trying to aid in the rescue were crying as they dug to try to rescue the victims.

      Men, Women and children were digging with there bare hand until they bleed to try and reach the children who had been buried by the mountain of slurry but only sadly managed to save but a few, nobody was ever found alive after 11 am on that fated morning. Rescue attempts were hampered by bad weather, severe fog and the fact that as they dug the slurry was still shifting slightly refilling the areas they were trying to dig out. They were also hampered by the fact that another slide could have easily happened at any time and killed all the rescue workers as well, but that did stop them from continuing to dig without a care for there own safety but the hope that they may find a survivor. What happened from there is just a sad a story. The children and teachers from the school who died were buried on the hillside after there bodies were recovered in a massive funeral that took place on the 27th October 1966 and a Disaster fund was launched just after that for the families of the victims of the Aberfan disaster. A inquest into the disaster was also launched and found that the blame for the disaster firmly laid with the National Coal Board and also founded in the tribunal report that it was utterly disgusted with the actions of the Nation Coal Board and some of its employee's both before and after the disaster.

      The National Coal Board refused to accept sole responsibility for the disaster and therefore money from the 1 million-disaster fund was made to be paid towards the costs of safely disposing of the rest of the excess slurry from the tips that overlooked Aberfan. This money was made to be repaid to the fund eventually but not until 1997 after many years of legal battles. In 1969 and 1971, eventually new laws were passed to prevent the chances of this happening ever again by enforcing new regulations in the disposal of waste from the mining collieries.

      The NCB was ordered to pay compensation to the families: £500 per child. In a controversial move, this payment was reduced by the amount that a publicly subscribed disaster fund paid to families. Lord Roben of Woldingham, chairman of the National Coal Board, did not rush to the scene; he instead went to accept an appointment as chancellor of the University of Surrey. Subsequently, he misrepresented the cause of the slide to the community and falsely claimed that nothing could have been done to prevent it. Robens never apologised. Nobody was ever prosecuted despite the damming reports from the tribunal.

      Although lessons have been learnt since this disaster, it could have been avoided in the first place. It is a disaster that rocked a whole nation and should always be remember as a tribute to those who lost there lives and there families. Please take the time to spare a thought for the families of the dearly departed on this the 40th anniversary of that fated day. This Disaster holds a special place in my heart always as my Father lost his cousin in the disaster; it is remembered and marked with remembrance every year by relatives of those who lost lives. We hope a nation will remember this sad occasion this year on the 40th anniversary.

      A heart felt Poem written by a resident of the community of Aberfan


      'The Day our Valley Stopped Singing"


      "Come on now, Davy, you'll be late for school."
      At eight came his mam's last warning.
      "Young Megan next door has long since gone.
      You've got to shape up in the mornings."
      Through the damp and misty streets he ran
      T'ward the sound of the school bell's ringing.
      He ran for his life, yet he ran to his death,
      For the streets that he raced were of Aberfan
      On the day our valley stopped singing.

      In the classrooms sat the future of Wales
      At the Pantglas Junior School.
      Young Davy sat with a group of his friends
      At their desks at the back of the room.
      A full day of lessons ahead, so they thought,
      Of arithmetic, reading and writing.
      But it wasn't to be, for this was to be
      The day our valley stopped singing
      And the world kissed our children goodbye.

      It was soon after nine on the twenty-first day
      Of October of year sixty six,
      That the call went out to emergency teams
      To hurry with shovels and picks.
      The Junior school and some nearby homes
      Were the object of their desperation,
      And the reason our valley stopped singing
      Was soon to be shared with the nation.
      And the horror was just beginning.

      A slag heap high on the mountainside
      That towered above the school,
      Had begun to creep in the morning's mist
      Unhindered by God, man, and tool.
      There was nothing on earth that could hold it back;
      Small wonder our valley stopped singing,
      For that hump-backed monster draped in black
      Continued its slide, unabating,
      Till it totally covered the school.

      All fire brigades and Civil Defence
      Were rushed to the ravaged scene.
      There were miners, teachers, and parents,
      And police and ambulance men.
      On the day our valley stopped singing
      It was full of volunteers,
      And though the rain fell through the day,
      It couldn't out-fall the tears
      The results of their labours were bringing.

      Roughly half of the twelve score pupils were safe,
      While the others were smothered or missing.
      Each rescuer toiled with the strength of two
      On the day our valley stopped singing.
      With spades they shovelled, with hands they clawed
      At the quagmire for signs of the living,
      And every live child was ample reward
      For the sweat, and the toil, and the effort,
      And the time they were selflessly giving.

      The medical staff at St. Tydfil's
      Had not before known such distress,
      And this day our valley stopped singing
      Was to bring even more grief, not less.
      After only an hour it was gravely feared
      That the trapped childrens' chances were slimming,
      And then, near the stroke of eleven o'clock,
      The last of the children still living
      Were pulled from the sludge where they'd mired.

      They'd recovered the sixtieth body by ten
      Of the evening our valley stopped singing,
      And they'd pull lifeless forms out again and again
      By the seventh and last day of digging.
      One hundred and sixteen dear children,
      And twenty-eight adults would die,
      And after their bodies were cleaned of the slime
      They were put in the care of their loved ones
      To be buried a second time.

      On the day our valley stopped singing
      We recalled pit disasters of yore,
      But the impact was not quite so chilling
      For the victims, the miners, had been more mature,
      And had known of the risks they were taking.
      What now touched all the hearts of the nation
      Were the maimed and the dead girls and boys,
      And the people responded with kindness,
      With donations of money and toys.

      Young Davy lost his life that day,
      And Megan the use of her legs,
      And even those children who came out unscathed
      Had suffered the loss of their friends.
      Life's not been the same in Aberfan
      Since those hopes and young bodies were crushed,
      And it's not been the same in a certain two homes,
      For Davy can't dawdle, and Megan can't rush
      Since the day our valley stopped singing.

      Ewyllysiwn erioed anghofia 'ch.

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