Photo of the Day

Lux has got the man flu today, so you’re in my hands…



The Aberfan disaster

The Aberfan disaster was a catastrophic collapse of a colliery spoil tip in the Welsh village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil, on 21 October 1966, which killed 116 children and 28 adults. It was caused by a build-up of water in the accumulated rock and shale, which suddenly started to slide downhill in the form of slurry.

Over 40,000 cubic metres of debris covered the village in minutes. The classrooms at Pantglas Junior School were immediately inundated; young children and teachers died from impact or suffocation. Many noted the poignancy of the situation: if the disaster had struck a few minutes earlier, the children would not have been in their classrooms, and if it had struck a few hours later, the school would have broken up for half-term.

Great rescue efforts were made, but the large numbers who crowded into the village tended to hamper the work of the trained rescue teams, and delayed the arrival of mine rescue workers from the Merthyr Vale Colliery. Only a few lives could be saved in any case. ?

Little can be said, after the course of 50 years, to add to our understanding of the trauma and grief that crushed this community on a damp, misty Friday morning in October 1966. Images of the torrent of coal waste that claimed the lives of 116 children and 28 adults have lost none of their power to disturb and horrify. There have been many searing accounts from survivors and helpers over the years. Local voices have conveyed the hurt and suffering with uncommon dignity.

What we can do, however ? in this week of the 50th anniversary ? is try to focus the attention of many in Britain and beyond on the lessons of Aberfan, lessons which are still of profound relevance today. They touch on issues of public accountability, responsibility, competence and transparency.

Aberfan was a man-made disaster. This is a fact that often needs underlining. No amount of dissembling and sophistry from the men of the National Coal Board (NCB) could disguise that central fact. There was nothing ?natural? about it, nothing freakish about the geology of Aberfan, nothing uniquely unforeseeable about the deadly slide. It happened because of a mix of negligence, arrogance and incompetence for which no individual was punished or even held to account.

…the lessons of Aberfan ?are still of profound relevance today? because ?they touch on issues of public accountability, responsibility, competence and transparency?.

One of those issues relates to the media, specifically the failure of national newspapers to hold to account the state-owned National Coal Board (NCB) and its high-handed chairman, Lord (Alf) Robens.

His conduct, wrote Edwards, ?was, by general consent, thoroughly reprehensible?. He tried to avoid blame for the tragedy, lied to the tribunal of inquiry and refused to pay for other dangerous tips to be cleared.

They were ?public bodies, led by strong-willed men, seemingly determined to put institutional face-saving before the needs of bereaved families?.

But there is an even more powerful parallel: in both instances, several newspapers allowed themselves to be spun by those institutions. That was a classic case of gullibility and deference.

[In the end, it] took just five minutes for the coal tip above Aberfan to slide down the mountain and engulf a farm, several houses and a school.

Pupils at Pantglas Junior School were just beginning their first lessons of the day when the rushing landslide of mud and debris flooded into their classrooms.

Some children were able to escape, but 116 were killed. Another 28 adults also died.