By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Kolontar and Budapest
KOLONTAR/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– Nearly two weeks after toxic sludge flooding in Hungary killed at least nine people and injured over 120 others, villagers are returning home. The arrivals come shortly after the government ordered the resumption of production at the MAL Zrt aluminum plant that has been linked to the disaster.
As clean-up efforts continue, residents return to a Hungarian village that resembles a Martian landscape – red and lifeless.
The village of Kolontar is still recovering from massive toxic sludge flooding caused by a broken wall at the metals plant’s reservoir.
Workers arriving in trucks reinforce emergency dykes that have been built to prevent new flooding, after authorities discovered cracks in another wall of the plant’s already damaged storage facility.
At least eight homes are destroyed to make way for a flood defense system.
Villager Jozsef Holczer has just arrived and watches his newly built home being demolished. “I could cry,” he told BosNewsLife. He explained that he now has to rebuild his life, as he also had a “car repair shop behind the house”. He has quickly moved his tools to a saver place.
Among other impoverished villagers are children, who are bussed in wearing masks to prevent them from breathing in toxic dust.
The environmental group Greenpeace has urged the government not to let villagers return to the devastated village of Kolontar.
It says dust produced by the factory’s toxic red sludge that swept over Kolontar and several other towns and villages in western Hungary since October 4, is “a huge health risk.”
Greenpeace claims it has found high levels of arsenic and mercury in the sludge, which could cause cancer and attack the nerve system. And, the group warns water supplies of at least 100,000 people in the area could be endangered.
Yet, despite the alleged risks, at least some of the impoverished villagers say they have no other option than to return. “We can’t go anywhere else, here is our home,” a woman said. But another resident is packing his car to leave. “My legs were already burned during the previous sludge flooding. Now I wants to live somewhere else.”
Neighboring countries are closely monitoring the situation amid concerns sludge could also pollute one of Europe’s main water ways, the river Danube.
Despite the controversy, the Hungarian Aluminum Production and Trade Company, linked to the disaster, restarted operations Friday after the government took control of the plant.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban says he wants to use revenue from the plant to help pay compensation to the victims.
Hungarian police have been questioning plant officials, but Director Zoltan Bakonyi, was released after a court found that prosecutors had not yet proved charges of negligence. Bakonyi has denied wrongdoing. (BosNewsLife’s NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key news developments, especially in (former) Communist nations and other autocratic states impacting the Church and/or compassionate professionals. This BosNewsLife News story also airs via its affiliated Voice of America (VOA) network).