“THERE CAN BE NO GREATER TRAGEDY” CLEDWYN HUGHES
YESTERDAY’S PAPERS On 21 October 1966, a man-made disaster in the Welsh mining village of Aberfan claims a generation of village children
The Welsh Valleys were once a heartland for coal mining, creating a visible blot on the verdant landscape: heaps of shale and rock built up to hundreds of metres high, towering over small communities. Aberfan was such a place. With no regulations to stop collieries from dumping wherever they liked, waste piled atop unstable sandstone, with a spring spouting from it. The residents had concerns, but these went ignored, as they threatened the mine’s closure.
On the misty morning of 21 October 1966 – the last day before half term – the children of Pantglas Junior School were having the register called out. Though it had been raining for the past fortnight, nothing could dampen the children’s spirits, so excited were they for the holidays.
But at 9.20am, an ominous roar came from the hills just behind the school. The water-saturated heap was fit to burst, and began to slide towards the village, reaching speeds of 50mph. Before those inside could react, the school was engulfed in up to ten metres of sludge, which quickly re-solidified. In the tragedy that ensued, 116 pupils and 28 adults died.
People rushed to the scene to retrieve survivors. A few were found, but there was not much that could be done. Though donations to the Aberfan Disaster Fund poured in from around the world, victims and their families had to fight long and hard to access the money. It would be years before an inquest found the National Coal Board was to blame for negligence, before justice could properly be served. However, the villagers – many of whom experienced severe psychological trauma – would be forever haunted by the preventable disaster.