The Aberfan Disaster

At 9.15am on the 21st October 1966 an estimated 150,00 tonnes of colliery waste sited high above the Welsh mining village of Aberfan slipped suddenly and headed down the mountain. Travelling at around 30 ft per second, the slide first engulfed a farmhouse - killing all the occupants. Then it hit a disused canal and railway embankment, pausing briefly, only to build up more power as it filled the empty canal and breached the embankment. Now mixed with masonry, boulders and trees, the tip slide rose up in a giant wave and cascaded over the embankment and into the village. It tore out two large water mains and demolished two rows of houses as it glanced off the senior school and ploughed directly into the junior school next door.

 

144 people died; 116 of them were schoolchildren, most perishing at their school desks.

 

The subsequent Tribunal of Inquiry (at 76 days, it was, at the time, the longest inquiry in British history) found that the cause of the disaster was due to the colliery waste being tipped on top of an underground spring-  something that had been described as 'unknown' and 'unforeseeable' by the National Coal Board in the days following the disaster. However, as the Inquiry discovered, the dangerous positioning of the tip was neither unknown nor unforeseeable and that inspections of the tips carried out before the disaster (there were 7 tips above the village) had been 'treated so cavalierly as to render [the] visit useless'.

 

In its final report, the Tribunal concluded:

 

'...the Aberfan disaster is terrifying tale of bungling ineptitude by many men charged with tasks for which they were totally unfitted, a failure to heed clear warnings, and of total lack of direction from above. Not villains but decent men, led astray by foolishness or by ignorance or both in combination, are responsible for what happened at Aberfan. That, in all conscience, is a burden heavy enough for them to bear without the additional brand of villainy...'

 

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