50 years ago today a Welsh town was struck by one of the worst disasters in British history. Aberfan was like any other Welsh coal mining town, the men went to the mines, the women worked in the local Hoover factory and the children went to the local school. The town was in a valley and surrounded by slag heaps that had been added to the natural hillsides, in winter when covered in snow it was said you could mistake them for a Swiss mountain town. It was like any other 1960's town, people were beginning to live with luxuries their parents couldn’t of dreamed of, inside bathrooms, televisions, vacuum cleaners.
The 21st of October 1966 was like any other day. The children of Aberfan were celebrating the final half of school day before their half term holidays.
At 9.15am 150,000 cubic meters of slurry liquefied, came away from the slagheap and streamed down the hillside, it hit Pantglas Junior School where nearly 200 children had just arrived and were in their classroom taking attendance, their classrooms were on the side of the school facing the tip. In a moment 116 children and 5 teachers were killed, most of the children were aged 7-10. Another 24 adults were killed in their homes that surrounded the school.
To understand the scale nearly half of Pantglas Junior School’s students were killed, every road in Aberfan lost a child, many lost multiple.
The community rallied to the school, miners came from the pit to dig for children but only 10 were rescued. 90 minutes after the slide it became a recovery mission.
The children were buried together in a mass ceremony 6 days later. The public rallied and donation poured in, nearly 90,000 contributions had been received, totaling £1,606,929 (£27.8 million in 2015, if adjusted for inflation).
Each parent received only £500 in compensation from the disaster fund, it was felt any more money would ruin the lives of these working class families who had never had so much money before.
The National Coal Board refused to admit their role in the tragedy, the heap was built on sandstone with underground streams that contributed to the unsafe conditions. A small slip happened 3 years before but nothing was done to make it safe. In the end the disaster fund had to pay £150,000 towards removing the heap as the Minister for Coal wouldn’t agree to pay it from the Coal Board’s budget. There was legislation passed in 1969 to create regulations for current and disused tips so nothing like Aberfan could happen again. The coal indutry continued to decline and eventually Thatcher closed the pits across the UK.
Aberfan is still one of the worst peacetime losses of life Britain has ever seen. It’s effects are still felt throughout the valleys as thousands of men traveled to help recover the victims. The children who survived suffered from PTSD and survivor’s guilt and the families who lost children struggled to recover from such loss