The Aberfan Disaster Through Pictures: The True Story of a Tragedy that Shook Wales in 1966


In 1966, a small Welsh village is forever changed by a devastating event that shocks the nation.

The Aberfan disaster, caused by the collapse of a colliery spoil tip, tragically resulted in the loss of 144 lives, the majority of whom were children.

This heartbreaking incident not only highlighted the dangers of coal mining, but also showed a profound display of resilience and community spirit.

A group of young schoolchildren had just begun mathematics lessons at Pantglass Junior School when a terrible rumble filled the air.

Within moments, tons of liquefied coal waste tumbled down the hill, hitting the school building and nearby homes.

Amidst the chaos, eight-year-old Jeff Edwards finds himself trapped in a nightmare.

For nearly two hours, he struggled to breathe, glued to his desk and surrounded by the lifeless bodies of his classmates. Jeff later recalled the despair and fear that gripped him as he struggled to survive.

Finally, a firefighter spots Jeff's blonde hair sticking out of the debris and pulls him to safety.

He was the last child to be rescued, the tenth and last survivor. 144 people lost their lives in this tragedy, most of which were children.

The Aberfan disaster, caused by heavy rain and poor coal conditions, remains one of the darkest chapters in British history. This is the true story of a tragedy that could not have been prevented.

Coal was once the backbone of industry in South Wales, supporting entire communities dependent on the high-grade steam (bituminous) coal located in the valleys and down the hills.

These communities included Aberfan, a village near Merthyr Tydfil, about 20 miles north-west of Cardiff, in the historic county of Glamorgan.

Established in 1875, Aberfan's Merthyr Vale Colliery emerged as the largest pit in the South Wales coalfield, producing huge quantities of waste.

For half a century this waste was dumped in spoil tips on the side of the Merthyr Mountains, just above Aberfan. The underlying geology of the area is composed of sandstone fed by underground springs.

There were seven bad tips on the hills above Aberfan; Tip 7—the one that slid toward the village—was opened in 1958 and, at the time of the disaster, was 111 feet (34 m) high.

In violation of National Coal Board (NCB) procedures, the tip was partially based on the ground from which the springs emerged.

After three weeks of heavy rain the top was submerged and about 140,000 cubic yards (110,000 cu m) of waste slid down the hill into the village's Pantglas area.

The flow destroyed two sluices buried in the embankment and the additional water further increased the destruction.

People who heard the avalanche said the sound reminded them of a low-flying jet or thunder.

A landslide hit Pantglas Junior School on Moy Road, destroying most of the structure and burying classrooms under thick mud, mud and debris.

The disaster took the lives of 109 children out of 240 attending the school and five teachers.

The students had come for the last day just before the half-term break, which was scheduled to begin at noon. The teachers had just started marking attendance when the landslide occurred.

A nearby secondary school was damaged and 18 houses on nearby streets were destroyed.

Mud and water from the slide flooded other homes, forcing many residents to evacuate. After the slide stopped, the material solidified, leaving a scene of destruction.

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