Some place names become synonymous with disaster – Krakatoa, Chernobyl, Flixborough, Aberfan. It was there on this day 26 years ago that a mountain of waste from the local coal mine buried a school , killing 144 people including 116 children.
It was a foggy morning, and teachers and pupils had no warning of the impending disaster. The first they knew was when they saw a wave of slurry higher than a house heading towards them, as one child put it, ‘as fast as a car’. It uprooted trees before hitting the school ‘like a big wave’, crushing the buildings as well as houses nearby.
The tip had slid half a mile, burying teachers and pupils in their classrooms. Local miners stopped work and joined with two thousand men and women hacking at the rubble with shovels, picks and bare hands to pull out whoever they could .
The slag heap had a stream running beneath it, and had also moved in 1959 and 1964, but warnings were not heeded, and an official inquiry declared the disaster ‘could and should have been prevented’. For more details, see A Disastrous History of Britain.