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Hungarian village near burst sludge pond is being evacuated

The Hungarian village of Kolontar, which lies close to a damaged alumina sludge reservoir which flooded villages on Monday, is being evacuated, according to a report.
Locals attempt to remove toxic sludge in the flooded village of Kolontar
Locals attempt to remove toxic sludge in the flooded Hungarian village of Kolontar.Bernadett Szabo / Reuters
/ Source: news services

Rescue workers evacuated a Hungarian village Saturday due to a heightened threat of a second deluge of toxic red sludge from a broken reservoir at an alumina plant, officials said.

They said that said a weakened wall in the reservoir from which 184 million gallons of sludge flooded several nearby villages, fields and waterways skirting the Danube river earlier this week was now expected to collapse.

Authorities therefore decided to evacuate 800 inhabitants from the village of Kolontar to the town of Ajka, Hungarian disaster agency spokesman Tibor Dobson told Reuters. Kolontar had been sealed off, a Reuters photographer there said.

Hungary declared a state of emergency in three counties after sludge from the alumina plant flooded three villages on Monday about 100 miles west of Budapest, killing seven people and injuring around 150.

"Last night the interior minister informed us that cracks have appeared in the northern wall of the reservoir, whose corner collapsed, which make it likely that the entire wall will collapse," Prime Minister Viktor Orban told a news conference.

Speaking in Ajka, he said the new spill could be about half the size of the previous one, but the material would be thicker than the initial tide of the corrosive, caustic waste material.

'Toughest possible consequences'
The spill from the Ajkai Timfoldgyar plant could have been avoided and there will be "the toughest possible consequences" to ensure such a disaster does not recur, Orban said.

In remarks carried by private broadcaster HirTV, he said a decision on whether to allow the plant to resume bauxite refining would not be made before Monday.

The national news agency MTI said crews were building a new 13- to 16.5-foot-high dam in Kolontar to shield it against any fresh burst of sludge from the broken reservoir.

The national news agency MTI said disaster crews were also poised to evacuate Devecser, with 5,400 people, if necessary.

Many people suffered from burns and eye ailments caused by caustic and corrosive elements in the sludge.

There were still no estimates of the financial damage caused by the sludge and the cause of the accident remains unknown.

All life died in the nearby Marcal River, the first to be struck by the sludge. There was sporadic fish death in other rivers. There were no reports of serious damage to the main branch of the Danube, a major European waterway.

On Friday, the confirmed death toll from the spill rose from four to seven with the death of an 81-year-old man from injuries sustained in the torrent and the discovery of two bodies.

There had been fears that the Danube River, Europe's second longest, would be heavily polluted but it appeared the waterway has absorbed the sludge with few signs of immediate damage.

However laboratory tests heightened concerns about possible longer-term harm caused by toxic heavy metals in the slurry.

In Croatia, downstream along the Danube, water samples were due to be taken twice a day from Saturday.

As a precaution, the town of Vukovar stopped using water from the Danube on Friday, relying instead on underground wells.