Monday, 4 October began like any other day. The inhabitants in the western part of Hungary were doing what they normally did on a slightly overcast autumn day. The children were returning from school, some people were shopping and others were working in the fields. Firefighter Zoltán Poór from the town of Devecser recalls driving his car.
“I was half-way between the towns of Devecser and Kolontár when I saw a wall of mud, several metres high, heading straight towards me. It was a greyish colour because it pushed dust and dirt in front of it. And on top of this ’wall’ floated a white car. It looked almost surreal”, he says.
The dikes gave in
Zoltán Poór is the head of the voluntary fire-fighting service in Devecser, and at that point, he had no idea that the dikes to a reservoir of aluminium-containing sludge had given way to the pressure from the strongly alkaline sludge. The pH value of the sludge was 13 and thus dangerous for anything living.
“All I could see was that something was definitely wrong. So I called my colleagues and headed back towards Devecser, where I began to rescue people, including two people in a field who were hopelessly stuck in the toxic mud. Later on, we found people sitting on roofs, in trees and on other high structures that kept them safe”, he said.
Pumps to make the final clean-up
A total of 12 people were killed and more than 200 were injured. Animals, plants and buildings were badly affected too when the tidal wave caused havoc in the area which today is ghostlike and empty. Only people wearing protective suits are allowed in.
“During the first phase we cleaned the area by digging up the sludge, using everything from shovels to diggers. Now – in the second phase – we are emptying houses of sludge, we wash them on the inside and outside and empty basements using pumps that we have been given by GMH”, he says.
The pumps include eight wastewater pumps from the SE and Unilift families, which have been donated by Grundfos Hungary.
Solidarity and teamwork
The tidal wave affected an area of approx. 600,000-700,000 square metres and it is the second time this year that a disaster has hit Hungary following a long period of heavy rainfall. It would not have been possible to clear up as fast if it was not for the help that has been received from so many sides.
“Some days, more than 1,000 people have helped fight the pollution, many of them volunteers. They have demonstrated an amazing sense of commitment and willingness to cooperate. We are deeply grateful for the numerous donations we have received, for example water, rubber boots, protective suits and the like”, says Zoltán Poór. He does not know when the inhabitants will be able to return to their houses.