Toxic Sludge Turns Hungary Town Into Red Ocean

Deadly sludge could flow into Danube River, spread for miles.

October 6, 2010 — -- The people of Hungary are seeing red in more ways than one.

The thick, red torrent of sludge, which burst from a reservoir at a metals plant 100 miles south of Budapest Monday, has left yards covered in toxic waste, piled up in streets and poured into fields.

The government of Hungary has launched a criminal probe into the disaster. It has left four people dead and forced the evacuation of hundreds.

People of Kolontar Lose Homes, Livelihoods

When the surge of sludge overtook the small town of Kolontar, Hungary, Andrase Hen was waiting for the bus.

"Drivers were shouting, honking their horns," Hen said.

When Hen turned to see what all the commotion was about, she saw waves of sludge "getting bigger and bigger and getting closer."

Hen grabbed her daughter and her granddaughter. Together, they climbed with neighbors to higher ground.

Today, a sea of red surrounds her house. Only the tallest tomato stalks peer out from the sludge. Her family's precious cows and chickens died and the loss of their animals is a serious blow to the family's livelihood.

"I don't know what's next," Hen said.

Kolontar was the first village hit by the sludge. The toxic wave barreled down from the reservoir straight into the village, rising to heights of six feet.

Sludge 'An Ocean of Red'

There's still no official reason for why the reservoir failed, but it is believed that recent rain storms may have weakened the mud and rock walls that held back the waste waters of the metal factory.

When those walls gave way, residents like Ferenz Andor say they saw a river of sludge pouring out. Andor told ABC News that the sludge looked like an ocean of red.

Today, crews were working nonstop to clear the streets, spraying the sludge with water, corralling it and then scooping it up with shovels.

"If it gets to your skin, it's causing like a burning," Gergely Simon of the Clean Air Action Group said. "If it gets to your eyes, you get blinded. If you swallow it, you die."

Fear That Deadly Sludge Will Flow Into Danube

The fear now is that the sludge could seep into the rivers including the Danube River. As of Tuesday, authorities said that the sludge is five days away from reaching the Danube. If it does reach it, the sludge will flow into six other European countries before it reaches the Black Sea: Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Moldova.

"This is the most important thing, if it goes directly to the Danube it could really be a huge ecological catastrophe," Bendek Javor, Chair of the Sustainable Development Committee of the Hungarian Parliament, said.

Already, the sludge has reached the Marcal River. Emergency workers poured 1000 tons of plaster into the water to try to keep it from flowing into the Danube.

For now, the sludge is a disaster for those whose homes and lives are submerged in red.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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