When the Mountain Falls

$18,609,800,070,329(Nov. 2015) Eighteen Trillion dollars and rising. That is what hangs over our heads. That is what hangs over the heads of our children, and their children, and their children. The debating and arguing in the House and the Senate of the last month have been over how much more to add to this towering edifice of folly; not how to reduce it; not how to tear it down before it falls on us; but how much to add to it.

Throughout the debate, a story that I read long ago, has been running through my mind. It is a dreadful tale that I have been reluctant to write about. I write it now because I think dreadful things are in store for us.

It is a true story.

In the southern part of Wales, there is a small village called Aberfan. The town spreads along the eastern bank of the river Taff. Across the river ,to the west, the ground rises up to form a long chain of hills running north and south. Under these hills are thick seams of coal, and the people of Aberfan mined this coal.

For nearly a century the men of the village dug the black gold and lifted it to the surface. The coal was loaded into rail cars and shipped off to England and the world where it warmed home and business, drove the engine of an empire, and put food on the tables ,clothes on the back , and roofs over the heads of the men and women and children of Aberfan.

Every thing that came out of the ground that wasn’t coal; sand, gravel, rock; was put in mining cars, hauled to the foot of the hills and dumped in a heap, or tip. Over the years the heap became a mound, then a hill, and grew eventually into a mountain that could be seen from almost any part of the village. Men walking to work could look across the river, up the slope toward the hills and see the mountain of slag sitting above them. Women going about their days chores had only to lift their heads to see the tops of the heaps. Every one said it’s a bad thing, unsafe, some one needs to move that tip before it falls. Occasionally a letter would be written, once in a while a petition would be circulated, but nothing ever came of it. The people in charge of the mines, and the coal tips as they were called, said it was safe, and the cost of moving them would be prohibitive. So when the tip grew too high to dump more slag on it, they moved the tracks for the mine cars and started another tip. And the people of Aberfan went about their lives and grew accustomed to manmade mountains hovering over them. After all, the men in charge said it was safe; and they weren’t greedy mine owners, interested only in the money; the mines were nationalized and run by the National Coal Board for the good of all the people of England and Wales, not by greedy Capitalists, but by men who were  Civil Service and spoke all the right words; Compassion, Fairness, and Working Class, and Living Wage.

So life went on. Men and women worked to build their dreams, young people fell in love and married, babies were born and grew up. And the slag heaps grew higher and higher.

Friday, 21 October 1966      9:15 A.M.

Fog from the River Taff covered the village and obscured the hills above. Children were in class,men on the job, women in the middle of their days routine when the ground began to tremble. From the west, out of the fog came a grinding, groaning roar pushing the air in front and parting the fog to show a wall of rock sand and gravel fifty feet high flowing down the slope like wet cement.

It passed over a farm, wiping it from the earth, then across the river Taff without slowing. Slaming into the western edge of Aberfan it destroyed about twenty homes built on terraces, then down to a two-story building. Flowing up and around the building , smashing the windows, caving in the doors, flowing in like water it filled the first floor then the second floor up to the attic thirty feet deep. Around and past the building the slag flowed another fifty yards or so then, finally spent, it stopped.

The slide destroyed less than five percent of the towns structures. you could almost say they were lucky in that regard.

Then the screams began.

The two-story building, filled to the rafters in less time than it takes to draw a deep breath, was the Panglas Middle School. There were over one hundred and twenty children and teachers inside. A handful, five or six, made to the attic and escaped, two children were pulled from the rubble alive. But after 11:00, less than two hours after the mountain fell, no one came out of the rubble alive.

For two weeks, night and day, the wailing of shattered hearts never stopped as the bodies of the children, like broken dolls, were pulled from the rubble. The toll was eventually set at 144 dead [ 116 children and 28 adults]

Aberfan was a very dark place for a very long time. For years after children couldn’t sleep unless their bedroom doors were open; they feared being trapped. Many found it impossible to sleep if it was raining, out of fear that the remaining tips would slide.

Donations poured in from around the world, 1.6 million pounds  were received for a Disaster Relief Fund from people who shared the grief of the of the stricken village.

During the hearings that followed the disaster, as one of the children’s name was called out, an autopsy report was read into the record stating that he had died of asphyxia; the father rose and cried out ” No sir, buried alive by the National Coal Board”.

Following unrelenting public pressure, the Board finally agreed to move the remaining coal tips. They took the money to pay for the operation from the donations sent to the Disaster Relief Fund.

—————————————————————————

I have wandered this earth for sixty odd years. For longer than I have been alive, a mountain of debt has been steadily growing over our country. The future of our children has been strip mined and the debt; the Slag; has been piled onto a heap. The heap has grown into a mountain. It is as certain as the turning of the earth that mountain of debt is going to come down. It will either fall on us, without warning, or we will tear it down. It will be the most difficult task we as  a people have ever under taken. It will require men and women with an iron will and rock solid dedication to the task that will last through generations.

What happens if we fail?

Go ask Aberfan.

Fourteen Trillion dollars and rising. That is what hangs over our heads. That is what hangs over the heads of our children, and their children, and their children. The debating and arguing in the House and the Senate of the last month have been over how much more to add to this towering edifice of folly; not how to reduce it; not how to tear it down before it falls on us; but how much to add to it.

Throughout the debate, a story that I read long ago, has been running through my mind. It is a dreadful tale that I have been reluctant to write about. I write it now because I think dreadful things are in store for us.

It is a true story.

In the southern part of Wales, there is a small village called Aberfan. The town spreads along the eastern bank of the river Taff. Across the river ,to the west, the ground rises up to form a long chain of hills running north and south. Under these hills are thick seams of coal, and the people of Aberfan mined this coal.

For nearly a century the men of the village dug the black gold and lifted it to the surface. The coal was loaded into rail cars and shipped off to England and the world where it warmed home and business, drove the engine of an empire, and put food on the tables ,clothes on the back , and roofs over the heads of the men and women and children of Aberfan.

Every thing that came out of the ground that wasn’t coal; sand, gravel, rock; was put in mining cars, hauled to the foot of the hills and dumped in a heap, or tip. Over the years the heap became a mound, then a hill, and grew eventually into a mountain that could be seen from almost any part of the village. Men walking to work could look across the river, up the slope toward the hills and see the mountain of slag sitting above them. Women going about their days chores had only to lift their heads to see the tops of the heaps. Every one said it’s a bad thing, unsafe, some one needs to move that tip before it falls. Occasionally a letter would be written, once in a while a petition would be circulated, but nothing ever came of it. The people in charge of the mines, and the coal tips as they were called, said it was safe, and the cost of moving them would be prohibitive. So when the tip grew too high to dump more slag on it, they moved the tracks for the mine cars and started another tip. And the people of Aberfan went about their lives and grew accustomed to manmade mountains hovering over them. After all, the men in charge said it was safe; and they weren’t greedy mine owners, interested only in the money; the mines were nationalized and run by the National Coal Board for the good of all the people of England and Wales, not by greedy Capitalists, but by men who were  Civil Service and spoke all the right words; Compassion, Fairness, and Working Class, and Living Wage.

So life went on. Men and women worked to build their dreams, young people fell in love and married, babies were born and grew up. And the slag heaps grew higher and higher.

Friday, 21 October 1966      9:15 A.M.

Fog from the River Taff covered the village and obscured the hills above. Children were in class,men on the job, women in the middle of their days routine when the ground began to tremble. From the west, out of the fog came a grinding, groaning roar pushing the air in front and parting the fog to show a wall of rock sand and gravel fifty feet high flowing down the slope like wet cement.

It passed over a farm, wiping it from the earth, then across the river Taff without slowing. Slaming into the western edge of Aberfan it destroyed about twenty homes built on terraces then down to a two-story building. Flowing up and around the building , smashing the windows, caving in the doors, flowing in like water it filled the first floor then the second floor up to the attic thirty feet deep. Around and past the building the slag flowed another fifty yards or so then, finally spent, it stopped.

The slide destroyed less than five percent of the towns structures. you could almost say they were lucky in that regard. Then the screams began.

The two-story building, filled to the rafters in less time than it takes to draw a deep breath, was the Panglas Middle School. There were over one hundred and twenty children and teachers inside. A handful, five or six, made to the attic and escaped, two children were pulled from the rubble alive. But after 11:00, less than two hours after the mountain fell, no one came out of the rubble alive.

For two weeks, night and day, the wailing of shattered hearts never stopped as the bodies of the children, like broken dolls, were pulled from the rubble. The toll was eventually set at 144 dead [ 116 children and 28 adults]

Aberfan was a very dark place for a very long time. For years after children couldn’t sleep unless their bedroom doors were open; they feared being trapped. Many found it impossible to sleep if it was raining, out of fear that the remaining tips would slide.

Donations poured in from around the world, 1.6 million pounds  were received for a Disaster Relief Fund from people who shared the grief of the of the stricken village.

During the hearings that followed the disaster, as one of the children’s name was called out, an autopsy report was read into the record stating that he had died of asphyxia; the father rose and cried out ” No sir, buried alive by the National Coal Board”.

Following unrelenting public pressure, the Board finally agreed to move the remaining coal tips. They took the money to pay for the operation from the donations sent to the Disaster Relief Fund.

—————————————————————————

I have wandered this earth for sixty odd years. For longer than I have been alive, a mountain of debt has been steadily growing over our country. The future of our children has been strip mined and the debt; the Slag; has been piled onto a heap. The heap has grown into a mountain. It is as certain as the turning of the earth that mountain of debt is going to come down. It will either fall on us, without warning, or we will tear it down. It will be the most difficult task we as  a people have ever under taken. It will require men and women with an iron will and rock solid dedication to the task that will last through generations.

What happens if we fail?

Go ask Aberfan.

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Posted on August 10, 2011, in Where This Road Goes and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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