KOŠICE-The cloud of lethal gas is gone, but the questions about human fault remain. The explosion at the East Slovak Ironworks (VSŽ) outside Košice on November 27 at 9:10 a.m. was heard by inhabitants a kilometer away from the agricultural village of Veľká Ida. It didn't excite them much because in 35 years of living next to the iron-making giant they've become used to many things and so they assumed the sound was part of normal production.
Only later did they remember that they'd never seen rats running so scared from their holes before. But they still didn't pay it much attention and went about their work. But many of them were about to go to their afternoon or night shifts at the company where the noise came from. Gas including carbon dioxide, nitrogen and arsine started seaping from a meter-wide hole at a speed of 20 cubic meters per second. The gas started to escape through underground passages along the railway track where unsuspecting VSŽ employees were working.
Anna Janovská works in a cafeteria at the mill. She heard the news about the gas leak from a friend and told her husband before he left for work: "Take care of yourself." When he didn't return home the next day, she went to look for him. She couldn't find him at three different hospitals. That afternoon, she went to look for him again but again in vain. She came back home, and her son told her: "Father is dead." Anna Jankovska didn't stop asking, "Why did they let him in without a gas mask? It is the biggest factory in Slovakia!"
People get goose bumps when they imagine that the current could have changed direction toward Košice. This year alone, 16 people have died due to accidents at VSŽ. Over its 35 year history, the mill has claimed 165 victims. The investigation started three days after the accident; the last victims hadn't even been buried yet.
Monika was the girlfriend of Marek Ludvik, a 22-year-old man who started working at the factory just four months ago. They were supposed to get married soon. Ludvik was the youngest victim of the tragedy. At his funeral, Monika expressed her fury at the authorities, who cited inversion, an atmospheric condition that in this case caused the gas to be trapped close to the ground, as an explanation for the deaths. "They can't tell me about any inversion of gas, they shouldn't have let them in," said the girl who became a widow sooner than she became a wife. "I am a chemist, and I know what could have been expected."
8. Nov 1995 at 0:00 | František Linhart