Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

Aberfan disaster: What happened 50 years ago today?

Rescue workers tear into the mud and rubble burying the ruins of one of a row of seven houses. Credit: PA Wire

Exactly 50 years ago today the tiny Welsh town of Aberfan was changed forever.

At 9.15am, just as over 100 children were sitting down for classes at Pantglas Junior school, thousands of tonnes of coal waste from the local mine sped down the mountainside and engulfed them.

The slurry covered the primary school, some terraced houses and a local farm - and within minutes 116 children and 28 adults were dead.

Rescuers worked for hours to try to find any survivors. Credit: PA

Many local miners took part in the rescue effort and used shovels to get the debris clear.

In total about 2,000 rescuers dug frantically, some for over 10 hours, in a desperate attempt to save lives - but only a handful of children survived.

Dilys Pope, 10, would later describe what happened.

She said: "We heard a noise and we saw stuff flying about. The desks were falling over and the children were shouting and screaming."

The deputy head teacher, Mr Beynon, was found dead.

A rescuer said "he was clutching five children in his arms as if he had been protecting them".

The graves of the victims of the Aberfan coal disaster. Credit: Steve Parsons/ PA

If the coal tip had slipped just a few minutes earlier the children would not have been in their classrooms.

Or just a few hours later they would have broken up for half-term.

The landslide was caused by a build-up of water after several days of heavy rain and the location of the slip directly above the town, put hundreds of lives at risk.

The official inquiry blamed the National Coal Board for extreme negligence and it led to new leglislation being passed about public safety for mines and quarries.

The impact of that morning is still felt today by the people of Aberfan as they continue to deal with the scars inflicted on October 21st 1966.

More on this story