Survivors mark 50 years since Aberfan disaster
Today marks fifty years since one of the UK’s worst industrial disasters which occurred in the Welsh village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil.
The disaster killed 116 children and 28 adults on 21 October 1966. The collapse was caused by the build-up of water in the accumulated rock and shale tip, which suddenly slid downhill in the form of slurry. More than 1.4 million cubic feet (40,000 cu metres) of debris covered a section of the village in minutes.
The classrooms at Pantglas Junior School were immediately affected when young children and teachers died from impact or suffocation. The poignancy of the situation is not lost on those affected; if the disaster had struck a few minutes earlier, the children would not have been in their classrooms, and if it had struck a few hours later, they would have left for the half-term holiday.
The official inquiry, opened in 1966, sat for 76 days – the longest inquiry of its type in British history up to that time – interviewing 136 witnesses, examining 300 exhibits and hearing 2,500,000 words of testimony. It laid the blame on the National Coal Board for extreme negligence, and its chairman, Lord Robens, for making misleading statements. Parliament passed new legislation regarding public safety in relation to mines and quarries.
In 1966, the Aberfan Disaster Memorial Fund (ADMF) received thousands of contributions which reached a total of £1,606,929. The tips were only made safe by a government grant and a contribution of £150,000 from the fund. In 1997 the Labour Government paid back the £150,000 to the ADMF and in 2007 the Welsh Assembly donated £1.5 million to ADMF as recompense for the money wrongly taken.
Today survivors will be marking the anniversary of the catastrophic event with a minutes silence as a show of mourning and respect. At 9.15am, the exact time the coal tip collapsed on top of the village, First Minister Carwyn Jones had asked people across the country to stop and remember the victims.
Image: Stephen McKay