Children of the Valley
The Aberfan Disaster
At 9:15AM on the 21st of October 1966, life changed forever in the Welsh mining village of Aberfan. A mountain of coal waste collapsed, burying a junior school in the valley below. 144 people died in the disaster, 116 of them were children.
The disaster in one small Welsh village captured the attention of journalists and photographers the world over. Chuck Rapaport, then aged 29, was one of them. He flew in from New York to photograph the incident for Life Magazine. He expected to be coming to a town without children. But, as Rapaport discovered, some children had survived.
Children like 10 year old Philip Thomas, sent on an errand that may have saved his life. He had been sent, with his friend Robert, down to the senior school to fetch Robert's dinner-money from his sister, when they heard the loud rumbling. Hugh Watkins, a teacher at the senior school remembers that he thought a plane had crashed into the mountain-side. He recalls "I looked up and saw, coming down, this huge mass of slurry, boulders and trees, welling down as if the mountain had opened up and exploded".
For 50 years, coal waste from the local mine had been dumped on the mountain side high above the village. Now, it's structure weakened by underground streams and several days of heavy rain cause tip number seven to collapse, burying the children and grandchildren of the miners who had dug it out.
As news of the disaster spread, families rushed to the scene, digging with their bare hands to try and save their children. Out of a class of 35 children, Philip Thomas was one of only two who escaped death. It was young survivors like him that Chuck Rapaport had come to photograph.