Evacuees return to toxic-sludge town

Refugees from the town flooded by toxic red sludge began returning to their homes yesterday.

About 30 residents were taken back in buses to Kolontar, in western Hungary, from a sports arena where they had been staying in the nearby town of Ajka.

They were among the 800 people evacuated last week after the town was deluged when a metal plant's reservoir burst its banks.

A protective wall, 2.7 metres high and 620 metres long, has been built to shield the town from any further spills of the red sludge. It is a highly caustic waste product from making alumina, which is then used to produce aluminium. Gyorgyi Tottos, a disaster agency spokeswoman, confirmed that other evacuees were "returning in their own vehicles from the homes of friends and relatives in the area where they have been staying".

At least nine people were killed in the disaster, and around 50 are still in hospital, several in a serious or life-threatening condition.