Aberfan

Aberfan Disaster

In my book, ‘An English Baby Boomer: My Life and Times,’ I describe how I befriended an earnest young Iranian, who had recently arrived from Cincinatti where he had been studying architecture. Over the next few months we took trips around England, visiting cathedral cities and pre-historic monuments. On one of these occasions – it was the 21st October 1966 – I switched on the car radio only to hear of the mud slide at Aberfan, where 28 adults and 116 children died.

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Afghan Disaster

On the 2nd of May 2014, history repeated itself, but this time the disaster was on a much greater scale and in a far way country, affecting people of whom we know nothing, or at least, very little. Even one death in such circumstances is appalling;  300 deaths, including women and children, in the Argu district of Badakshan (Afghanistan) touches the soul as Afghanistan constantly struggles with the Taliban, extremes of weather — drought, floods, possibly the effects of global warming and illegal deforestation. The tragedy was made even worse because after the first landslide, many local people arrived to provide assistance and were themselves killed in a second slide. Entire families were buried in the mud and one woman is reported to have lost seven sons. Although it has now been established that only one village was destroyed, hundreds of families from a wider area have been relocated for fear that they will be affected by further slides.

Of course, there have been many other similar incidents around the world over time for varying reasons, however, the Aberfan disaster in Wales and that in Afghanistan were caused by torrential rain loosening surface material.  In Aberfan this material was colliery waste, accumulated rock and shale, that slid downhill in the form of slurry.

How do communities cope with such dreadful occurrencies?

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Digging for loved ones

Aberfan was, and is, a close knit community so the local people, parents and the emergency services were soon on hand. As far as I can ascertain, all the victims were eventually recovered and their funerals followed. The whole country was devastated by the event and the Queen, together with the Duke of Edinburgh, representing the nation, visited Aberfan on October 29tt.  Apparently, Her Majesty was close to tears as were we all when the reports came on the news.  Considerable legal and financial wrangling followed, centred round the National Coal Board and its chairman, Lord Robens, as the country sought reasons for why the accident had occurred. At the coroner’s inquest one father was reported to have exclaimed: ‘I want it recorded – Buried alive by the National Coal Board – that is what I want to see on the record.’  In 1969 the ‘Mines and Quarries (Tips) Act 1969’ was designed to prevent such a dreadful incident occurring again.  Britain had learned a harsh lesson.  However, the community itself, especially parents who had lost their children were deeply affected and alcoholism, cases of breakdowns, stress disorders including feelings of extreme guilt for having survived and health problems for those with existing condition all manifested themselves.

It is far too early to assess the long term effect of the Badakshan disaster.  Few, if any bodies will be recovered as in some cases the mud eventually settled 30 feet deep.  Although, it would appear that no blame can be attached to an individual or organisation, it was a naturally occurring event, one wonders why a community lived in such a vulnerable position.  The reason for this is that they were too poor to find an alternative.  The survivors need food and aid and the World Food Programme released 80 metric tons of foodstuffs within a matter of days. Afghanaid, a charity that my wife and I support, as has been detailed in my book, is active in the area and have launched an appeal.  Afghanaid has been working in the Argo district for many years as the facilitating partner for the NSP (National Solidarity Programme). Their staff know the affected areas well and have been on the front line to alleviate the suffering. www.afghanaid.org.uk/news.php/40/emergency.appeal

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Aberfan Cemetery

Sulaiman Sarwary, deputy director of Afghanaid was in Argu within 48 hours of the slide and described the scene as ’beyond comprehension’. Several candidates for the presidential elections have visited the scene.

We Baby Boomers, and many others, who remember Aberfan, may feel our heart strings torn to hear of such events.

 

 

 

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