This Day In History: October 21

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On the morning of October 21, 1966, a landslide of coal waste crashes into a small Welsh mining village, killing 116 children and 28 adults. The accident left just five survivors and wiped out half the town’s youth. The Aberfan disaster became one of the UK’s worst coal mining accidents.

The landslide sent 140,000 cubic yards of coal waste in a tidal wave 40-feet high hurtling down the mountainside where Merthyr Vale Colliery stood, destroying farmhouses, cottages, houses and part of the neighboring County Secondary School. The avalanche is thought to have been the result of shoddy construction and a build-up of water in one of the colliery’s spoil tips—piles of waste material removed during mining.

Wales was known for coal mining during the Industrial Revolution. Aberfan's colliery opened in 1869 and ran out of space for waste on the mountain valley floor by 1916. It then started tipping on the mountainside above the village and in 1966 amassed seven tips containing 2.7m cubic yards of colliery spoil.

Years before the incident, Aberfan's town council contacted the National Coal Board to express concerns over the spoil tips following a non-lethal accident on the colliery. No action was taken to address the issue at the time. The tip that fell on October 21 covered material that previously slipped.

The disaster garnered widespread national attention. Queen Elizabeth II did not visit the site until eight days after the accident; she later admitted that not going sooner is one of her biggest regrets.

The Mines and Quarries (Tips) Act was passed in 1969 to add provisions when using mining tips, among other things. 

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