Well, I’m sure that everyone is really curious about the vörösiszap. (Literally: “red sludge,” but I guess everyone in America is calling it the toxic spill). Last week was intense to say the least. Since Elder Caviness and I are the closest missionaries to the towns that were affected, and since we are also Zone Leaders with a car, the responsibility to organize and coordinate a relief effort sort of fell onto our shoulders! So we spent about two days straight calling the Stake Presidency, missionaries, branch presidents, and bishops to figure out how many people could participate and how many supplies we had to buy.
It all started last Monday when we were with an investigator and she told us that something crazy had happened in a nearby town called Kolontár. She said that there was some sort of toxic sludge spill. We drove to the area from the east through a city called Ajka, but the police had closed the road and we couldn’t get in. We drove around for a while and tried to go into Devecser, but the entrance to the city was closed – there were cars lined up along the road and no one was getting let it. The road into the town was completely red.
A few days later we learned that people were being let into Devecser to help, so we talked to our mission president about putting together a relief effort. Friday morning we drove back to Devecser. There were police everywhere with protective masks, and they even had automatic machine guns too! (I assume that the guns were to make sure that no one did anything stupid because of panic.) It was really surreal to walk and drive through the town. I felt like I was in a war zone. Everything was red and destroyed.
We went to city hall and talked to the people in charge of the relief efforts. They said that they would love to have a group of people come and help. We then talked to our mission president who told us that the church would be sending tons of money to help with the cleanup. He also told us that we were in charge for the time being. That’s when things got really hectic.
We had our own relief plan, and then we found out that other branches and the stake all had their own plans too, so we had to coordinate them all and try to group them together. We had a small group planned for Saturday (okt. 9) with people from Veszprém and a few from Győr. Then on Monday (okt. 11) we would have a big official group from Szombathely, Győr, Pápa, Veszprém, Székesfehérvár, and Budapest.
We drove to Tatabánya and met the senior missionary couple who work in the mission office and they gave us almost $2,000 and a small van so we could purchase and transport supplies for the groups. This was the stressful part because we had to buy boots, gloves, masks, and glasses for about 40 people and we only had about 24 hours to do it and there were only a few stores that sold those things with the quality and in the quantity we needed. Also, everyone else wanted to buy those things too. So we drove all over the place trying to get what we needed. In the end we were able to get almost all of the needed supplies.
On Saturday we went to Devecser to work with the members from Veszprém. The security was more relaxed by then; none of the police had machine guns. We spent the day shoveling sludge from people’s yards into giant containers. As soon as we filled one container, someone would take it away and bring in a new one. People were still living in Devecser and it was crazy to hear and see them cleaning their houses and talking about what happened. Pretty much everyone wants to move since their houses and yards and belongings have all been destroyed. The worst part is that all of the land is probably going to die and no one will be able to grow anything – it will be extremely dead and devoid of green vegetation, so even if people could clean their houses the area would be miserable to live in. Kolontár is the little town right next to where the waste was stored and everyone is calling it a dead town. No one will be able to live there for a very, very long time.
Monday was the big day and it was really cool to see about 45 members from all over the northwestern part of Hungary come to help. We were split into two groups and the group that I was in went to the post office in Devescer. We pretty much stayed there the whole day getting furniture out and shoveling sludge. But we were also able to remove a lot of destroyed furniture and stuff from a nearby house. And since we came in such a big group we got to wear the yellow Mormon Segítő Kézek (Mormon Helping Hands) vests! It was actually a lot of fun.
Many are probably curious about how dangerous the sludge is. When it came out of the storage area it had a pH level of 13 out of 14 and so it was burning holes in people’s skin, but now after it rained twice the pH level has dropped down to 11 in many areas. So we can get it on our skin and not have any problems if we scrub it off with soap and water within about 24 hours. And now since the weather is a bit nicer, the problem is that the sludge is drying and the dust will cause cancer if you breath enough of it. But if we wear good quality masks, which we did, then we shouldn’t have any problems.
Another big group is probably going back to help again this Saturday and my companion and I will be helping out every p-day until there is nothing left to do. Also the church is donating A LOT of money to the relief efforts. I don’t want to give an exact number because I’m not completely sure, but it is very generous. And very much appreciated.
Please keep the people affected by this disaster in your prayers. They really need it.