Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge

By Attila Nagy on at

Kolontár’s wounds are deep. Five years ago, on October 4th, 2010, roughly one million cubic metres of liquid chemical waste burst from a red mud reservoir of the Ajka Alumina Plant. The 2-4 metres high wave of toxic sludge flooded the small village west of Budapest, and minutes later, six other villages and towns.

Hungary’s worst chemical accident killed six Kolontár residents immediately, and injured more than hundred village inhabitants that suffered severe chemical burns caused by sodium hydroxide.

The unexpected and unstoppable hazardous sludge tsunami swept cars from roads and damaged bridges and houses along its way, extinguishing all life. Hundreds of villagers were evacuated, dozens of houses became completely uninhabitable; the land, the fields, the gardens, and streets were covered in thick foul caustic red mud for an area of about 40 square kilometres to the west of the damaged reservoir dam.

Hungary’s National Directorate General for Disaster Management (NDGDM) declared state of emergency in three counties affected by the spill. Hundreds of police officers, soldiers, firefighters, and several emergency detection teams were deployed to stop the contamination and remediate the environmental impact of the leak. A police investigation was opened to determine what caused the dam of the large open-air waste pond to collapse.

The clean-up operations took more than a year. While nature’s wounds have healed well, Kolontár never will be the same. Dozens of houses had to be demolished, and many people who had to flee never came back. Kossuth street, which suffered the worst impact, is now a kind of memorial place. The following then-and-now photos depict how the devastated village is and now quiet and scarred.

Our Lady of Hungary Church view from the red mud covered field

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge


A Kolontár resident tries to make his way through a flooded road

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge


Huge chunks of toxic red sludge damage utility poles

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge


Landscape outside the village then and now

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge


Firefighters on the main street of Kolontár

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge


Gardens

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge


Shocked locals

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge


The level of the toxic mud

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge


This off-road vehicle was carried and pushed into the Torna creek by the sludge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge


Never before seen emergency

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge


Collapsed bridge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge


Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge


This damaged house is a memorial now

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge


Drying red mud

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge


Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge


Nobody believed this could happen

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge


People used to live here

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge


Remediation

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge


Hazmat

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge


This house was never finished

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge


They had to demolish this home too

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge


Also this house is no more

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge


Struggling

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge


28 Kossuth Street, Kolontár, Hungary

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge

Revisiting the Small Village That Was Completely Devastated By Toxic Red Sludge


Photos: Attila Nagy (2010–Index.hu, 2015–Gizmodo.com)