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A Flood of Red Sludge, One Year Later

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On October 4, 2010, the retaining wall of a caustic waste reservoir at the Ajka alumina plant near Kolontar, Hungary, collapsed, releasing more than one million cubic meters (38 million cubic feet) of highly alkaline red sludge. The thick wave of waste material flooded several nearby villages, killing 10 people, injuring more than 120, and leaving many with chemical burns on their skin. The sludge eventually found its way into local rivers, killing many animals. One year later, damaged buildings have been razed, much of the land has been cleaned up, and MAL Hungarian Aluminum has been fined $647 million (472 million euros) for environmental damages. Today, monitoring shows lower toxicity than many had feared, but the levels are still dangerous. Gathered here are older and recent images from the disaster, including five before-and-after photo pairs (starting with photo number 15) that you can click to see the difference a year can make. [28 photos]

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A combination photograph shows (left) Janos Fuchs in Kolontar, 150 km (93 miles) west of Budapest, going through the rubble of his mother's home, which had been damaged by a flood of toxic red sludge, on October 6, 2010, and (right) Fuchs posing at the same location where the house had once stood on September 23, 2011, after the affected areas had been bulldozed. Ten people died and more than 120 were injured when the waste reservoir of a nearby alumina plant broke on October 4, 2010, causing Hungary's worst ever industrial catastrophe. (Reuters/Laszlo Balogh)
A combination photograph shows (left) Janos Fuchs in Kolontar, 150 km (93 miles) west of Budapest, going through the rubble of his mother's home, which had been damaged by a flood of toxic red sludge, on October 6, 2010, and (right) Fuchs posing at the same location where the house had once stood on September 23, 2011, after the affected areas had been bulldozed. Ten people died and more than 120 were injured when the waste reservoir of a nearby alumina plant broke on October 4, 2010, causing Hungary's worst ever industrial catastrophe. (Reuters/Laszlo Balogh)
This photo from October 9, 2010, shows the damaged reservoir near an alumina plant, seen from the air in Kolontar, Hungary. (Reuters/Laszlo Balogh) #
An aerial view of the broken dyke of a reservoir containing red mud of an alumina factory, near Ajka, Hungary, on October 8, 2010, four days after the dike broke. (AP Photo/MTI, Balazs Mohai) #
A Hungarian soldier wearing a chemical protection gear walks through a street flooded by toxic in the town of Devecser, Hungary, on October 5, 2010. (AP Photo/Bela Szandelszky) #
An aerial view of Kolontar village covered by toxic red mud on October 12, 2010. (AP Photos/MTI, Sandor H. Szabo) #
A grain field is flooded by toxic mud outside the village of Kolontar, Hungary, on October 5, 2010. (AP Photo/Bela Szandelszky) #
A dog is covered with mud in Devecser, Hungary, on October 5, 2010 after the village was flooded on October 4 by toxic red sludge from a local alumina plant. (Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images) #
Family photos on a wall show the height of the sludge after a flood of toxic mud broke into a home in the village of Kolontar, Hungary, on October 7, 2010. (AP Photo/Bela Szandelszky) #
A police officer wears a protective mask as he stands guard at an alumina plant reservoir which cracked and unleashed a torrent of toxic red sludge in Kolontar, Hungary, on October 10, 2010. (Reuters/Bernadett Szabo) #
Reuters photographer Bernadett Szabo walks amid red toxic sludge in the flooded village of Devecser, Hungary, on October 6, 2010. (Reuters/Laszlo Balogh) #
An aerial view of excavators working at a broken dike of a reservoir that contained red mud of an alumina factory near Ajka, Hungary, on October 6, 2010. (AP Photo/MTI, Sandor H. Szabo) #
An aerial view of Kolontar village covered by toxic red mud, 164 km southwest of Budapest, Hungary, on October 12, 2010. (AP Photos/MTI, Sandor H. Szabo) #
An image of Jesus Christ, partly covered by red mud, in a house in Devecser, Hungary, on October 9, 2010. (Balint Porneczi/AFP/Getty Images) #
Zoltan Bakonyi, head of aluminium company MAL Zrt, covers his face after the Veszprem county court released him from custody in Veszprem, Hungary, on October 13, 2010. (Reuters/Laszlo Balogh) #
A before-and-after pair of photos of (before) a toxic waste cleanup specialist cleaning the street in Devecser, Hungary, which had been inundated by a flood of toxic red sludge, on October 8, 2010, and (after, click to view) the same area on September 23, 2011, by which the affected houses had all been bulldozed and the area mostly cleaned. [click image to view transition] (Reuters/Bernadett Szabo) #
A pair of photos shows (before) a man removing debris from the rubble of his house in the village of Kolontar, Hungary, on October 7, 2010, and the same area (after, click to view) on September 23, 2011, after most of the houses had been demolished and the affected area largely cleared of the caustic waste. The house shown in the picture has been left standing as a memento, and a safety dike was erected to protect the village from potential new spills. [click image to view transition] (Reuters/Bernadett Szabo) #
In this before-and-after pair of images, a man (before) walks along a red-sludge-flooded street in the town of Devecser, Hungary, on October 9, 2010, and (after, click to view) the same area on September 25, 2011, after the houses had been demolished. [click image to view transition] (Reuters/Bernadett Szabo) #
A combination before and after set of photographs shows (before) the backyard of a house in Kolontar, Hungary, which had been inundated by a flood of toxic red sludge, on October 7, 2010 and the same area (after, click to view) on September 25, 2011, after houses had been demolished and the affected area largely cleared of caustic waste. [click image to view transition] (Reuters/Bernadett Szabo) #
Before: A man tries to clear toxic red sludge from the yard of a house in the village of Kolontar, Hungary, on October 7, 2010 and (after, click to view) the same area on September 23, 2011, after buildings and homes had been torn down. [click image to view transition] (Reuters/Bernadett Szabo) #
A combination photograph shows (left) 80-year-old Jozsef Bors trying to clean his house in the town of Devecser, Hungary, after it had been inundated by a flood of toxic red sludge, on October 6, 2010 and (right) standing outside his new home which he received in compensation, in another part of Devecser, on September 23, 2011. (Reuters/Laszlo Balogh) #
The ground in the village of Kolontar, Hungary, inundated by a flood of toxic red sludge, on October 6, 2010 and the same area (right) on September 25, 2011, after the affected area had largely been cleared of caustic waste. (Reuters/Bernadett Szabo) #
At left, shopkeeper Margint Kunos cleans red sludge from her store in the town of Devecser, Hungary, on October 11, 2010 and (right) Kunos, who still works in the same store, on September 23, 2011. (Reuters/Bernadett Szabo) #
The village of Kolontar, Hungary, damaged by a flood of toxic red sludge on October 9, 2010 and the same area (right) on September 23, 2011, after the affected houses were all bulldozed. (Reuters/Laszlo Balogh) #
A present-day aerial view of the waste reservoir of Hungarian Aluminium (MAL) near Kolontar, Hungary, on September 23, 2011. MAL was under state management for months and received a record $647 million fine, but continues its operations to this day. The waste reservoir wall has not been repaired, but the firm has switched to a dry technology and erected multiple layers of emergency dikes. (Reuters/Laszlo Balogh) #
A girl sits in front of portraits of former Soviet dictator Vladimir Lenin, as 230 Communist-era relics are to be auctioned to benefit the victims of the red sludge flood, on December 6, 2010 in Budapest. (Balint Porneci/AFP/Getty Images) #
Construction at a state-financed housing project for red sludge victims in the town of Devecser, Hungary, on July 14, 2011. The flood of toxic red sludge which devastated Devecser and the neighboring Kolontar in October has cost Hungary over 30 billion forints ($158 million, or 111 million euro) in damages and reconstruction costs. (AP Photo/Bela Szandelszky) #
An aerial photo shows the path carved by the torrent of toxic red sludge through the town of Devecser, Hungary, on September 23, 2011. Affected buildings were demolished, and much of the soil cleaned up. (Reuters/Laszlo Balogh) #
Tunde Erdelyi, rescuing her cat from the wreckage of her home in the town of Devecser, Hungary (at left), on October 5, 2010 and Erdelyi today (right) in the village of Bazsi on September 23, 2011. She now has a new cat because the old cat unfortunately ran under a car only two days after being rescued. (Reuters/Bernadett Szabo) #

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