Hungarian Red Cross mobilises as toxic mud spill leaves three dead, dozens injured

News and Press Release
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By Joe Lowry, Communications Manager, Europe Zone Office, Budapest

Hungarian Red Cross (HRC) has mobilised a team of 50 volunteers to assist evacuees after a serious industrial accident near the village of Kolontár in the west of the country. Three people - including a three-year old child - are reported dead and four more are missing, with dozens injured, after a reservoir of residue from an aluminium plant broke on Tuesday, 5 October, releasing a flood of toxic red mud.

A wall of toxic chemical sludge up to two metres deep in places has swamped Kolontár and five other villages, causing the government to declare a state of emergency in three regions. Residents have been forced to climb onto rooftops to escape the toxic tide as houses were inundated with mud.

Troops in protective gear have been helping to clean up the spill while plaster is reportedly being poured into the Marcal river to bind the sludge and stop further flooding.

The red mud is a toxic residue left over from aluminium production and contains harmful substances such as lead and highly corrosive elements. Around 80 to 90 people have been taken to hospital with chemical burns. Gas, electricity and water supplies have been affected.

Hungarian Red Cross is delivering mineral water, food, camp beds and blankets to the worst-affected settlements. The team is setting up a temporary shelter in Várpalota and has offered its holiday resort in Balatonlelle to accommodate evacuees, but for the moment, most of the affected persons have chosen to stay with relatives.

The HRC Disaster Management, Géza Fási, is in Kolontár, overseeing the response to the devastating impact of the disaster on local inhabitants, their properties, the environment and agriculture. He is also leading a needs assessment. More members of the HRC National HQ Disaster Management Team are on their way to the site, as well as the president of Hungarian Red Cross, Georg Habsburg. He and the HRC team will participate in the meeting of the Defence Committee of the National Directorate General of Disaster Management scheduled for later today.

The authorities have provided 500 nose-and-mouth masks to the Hungarian Red Cross team, which are being distributed to people at risk, as well as protective glasses, gloves and inflatable rubber boats.

State secretary for the environment ministry Zoltan Illes described the incident as the worst-ever chemical accident in Hungary. The Hungarian parliament has observed a minute's silence for the victims and a national appeal to support flood victims has been issued.