Hungarian toxic spill plant 'to reopen by Friday'

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Volunteers in protective clothing walking through red mud in the flooded village of Devecser, Hungary
Image caption,
Volunteers cleared toxic sludge in the flooded village of Devecser on Wednesday

The aluminium plant responsible for a huge toxic spill in Hungary will resume production by Friday, according to a key government official.

Several villages were devastated when the walls of a reservoir containing the chemical residue burst on 4 October.

The government says a new dam is now ready in case of a second spill.

Hungary's cabinet visited the site on Wednesday to examine the work being done to prevent further spillage.

They later held a cabinet meeting in the nearby town of Veszprem.

Containment efforts

The new dam, about 1,500m (1,600 yards) long and up to 30m wide, is designed to protect villages if the walls of the reservoir give way again.

Engineers and relief workers have been racing since the weekend to complete it.

The government website also gave an update on the state of the reservoir walls.

"The crack in reservoir number 10 has not moved and checks are being conducted regularly," it said.

In addition, reports suggest a new system of dykes has been partially completed.

Interior Minister Sandor Pinter told reporters that a state of "evacuation readiness" imposed on the town of Devecser was being lifted.

The alert was imposed on Saturday when authorities feared a second spill was likely.

Image caption,
Devecser residents are told it is safe to return but they should wear masks

"Life is safe again in Devecser," Mr Pinter said.

But the residents of Kolontar, who were evacuated, have been told they will not be able to return to their village until the weekend "because containment work is not entirely complete yet".

The government says studies of the ground and the clean-up of fields have begun.

"The drinking water is safe," said the government on its website, "but filter masks are required in the polluted area due to the high concentration of dust in the air."

Up to 700,000 cubic metres (24.7m cu ft) of the toxic residue spilled out when the reservoir burst, covering an area of 40 sq km (15.6 sq miles), and affecting eight villages.

About 150 people were hurt and it has been announced another person has died from their injuries, taking then death toll to nine.

Disaster relief services said an elderly person from Kolontar had become the latest casualty of what has been described as Hungary's worst chemical accident.

At least 45 people are still in hospital.

Government takeover

Disaster Relief Commissioner Gyorgy Bakondi announced on Wednesday that production at the aluminium plant would resume at the end of the week.

He said the industrial heating had already been switched on.

The government is preparing to take over the company which owns the plant, MAL Hungarian Aluminium, until those affected have been compensated and the damage cleaned up.

Mr Bakondi said he would not suspend management but rather install monitoring personnel to oversee them.

The plant, located about 160km (100 miles) from Budapest, produced alumina from bauxite ore. Alumina is used to make aluminium metal as well as advanced ceramics.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban has blamed negligence for the spill and said the company should bear the costs.

The chief executive of the Ajka plant, Zoltan Bakony, has been in custody for two days but he was released on Wednesday.

His lawyer said the court in Veszprem had found the case against his client to be insufficient to keep him behind bars.