Kolontár’s wounds are deep. Five years ago, on October 4, 2010, roughly one million cubic meters of liquid chemical waste burst from a red mud reservoir of the Ajka Alumina Plant. The 2-4 meters high wave of toxic sludge flooded the small village west of Budapest, and minutes later, six other villages and towns.

Hungary’s worst chemical accident killed six Kolontár residents immediately, and injured more than hundred village inhabitants that suffered severe chemical burns caused by sodium hydroxide.

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The unexpected and unstoppable hazardous sludge tsunami swept cars from roads and damaged bridges and houses along its way, extinguishing all life. Hundreds of villagers were evacuated, dozens of houses became completely uninhabitable; the land, the fields, the gardens, and streets were covered in thick foul caustic red mud for an area of about 40 square kilometers to the west of the damaged reservoir dam.

Hungary’s National Directorate General for Disaster Management (NDGDM) declared state of emergency in three counties affected by the spill. Hundreds of police officers, soldiers, firefighters, and several emergency detection teams were deployed to stop the contamination and remediate the environmental impact of the leak. A police investigation was opened to determine what caused the dam of the large open-air waste pond to collapse.

The clean-up operations took more than a year. While nature’s wounds have healed well, Kolontár never will be the same. Dozens of houses had to be demolished, and many people who had to flee never came back. Kossuth street, which suffered the worst impact, is now a kind of memorial place. The following then-and-now photos depict how the devastated village is and now quiet and scarred.

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Our Lady of Hungary Church view from the red mud covered field

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A Kolontár resident tries to make his way through a flooded road

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Huge chunks of toxic red sludge damage utility poles

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Landscape outside the village then and now

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Firefighters on the main street of Kolontár

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Gardens

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Shocked locals

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The level of the toxic mud

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This off-road vehicle was carried and pushed into the Torna creek by the sludge

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Never before seen emergency

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Collapsed bridge

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This damaged house is a memorial now

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Drying red mud

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Nobody believed this could happen

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People used to live here

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Remediation

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Hazmat

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This house was never finished

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They had to demolish this home too

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Also this house is no more

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Struggling

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28 Kossuth Street, Kolontár, Hungary

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Photos: Attila Nagy (2010–Index.hu, 2015–Gizmodo.com)

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