Hunt for corpses in black slime: Scores died after a dam wall broke and sludge swept through a gold-mining town, writes John Carlin in Virginia, South Africa

'IT WAS like lava from a volcano.' 'It was like a flood, a flood of black slime.' 'It was like the end of the world had come.'

Survivors of a mining disaster in which 13 people are known to have died and 56 were still missing last night, slopped in and out of their devastated homes covered in dark grey sludge trying to salvage what possessions they could. Search parties of police, soldiers and firemen waded waist- high through a huge black, viscous lake covering the once leafy little suburb of Merriespruit, in the mining town of Virginia, 180 miles south of Johannesburg. A team of sniffer dogs was brought in yesterday as well as helicopters fitted with sonar devices which hovered over a scene as eerie with death as a muddy First World War battleground.

Police said they were looking for corpses, not living people. The dead so far include an 18-month-old child and a 71- year-old man. At least 80 houses were destroyed, and 200 rendered uninhabitable.

Meanwhile, at the Koornfontein colliery at Middelburg, Transvaal, efforts were under way last night to rescue 19 miners trapped by an underground fire.

The Virginia catastrophe struck at 9pm on Tuesday when part of a wall of a vast reservoir broke, unleashing a 6ft-high torrent of slime, the chemical residue of the gold- mining process, against the houses on the edge of the suburb, 300 yards away.

The flood tore on, cutting a lethal swath 400 yards wide through Merriespruit, demolishing homes, sweeping away people, dogs and cats, lorries and cars, knocking over trees, and stopping its march only at a swampy stretch of low-lying ground 1 1/2 miles on.

'We were sitting watching TV when we heard what sounded like the sea coming, like a big frightening wave,' said Sean White, 20, a fitter at a nearby mine. 'I looked outside and I saw cars speeding down the road, but not going straight, like swirling round and round in circles. I even saw a fire-truck - it must have travelled a kilometre. The mud then poured in through the windows up to my waist. I told everybody, there were seven of us from my family, we must climb on the roof. So I went up and pulled everybody up.

'Then, when we were all safe, I went down to see if I could help anybody. It took me four hours to cover three blocks, with mud up to my neck. I found two little kids on a roof and they said their mother and father were still in the house. I went in and I found them both dead. The man's arm had been amputated. I suppose a piece of a window smashed through and cut it off.' Half-a-mile away, Vic Mayhew, a retired television repairman, pointed to what remained of his house across 300 yards of slime now only knee-deep. He had recovered three grey mattresses, a grey washing machine and some grey chairs.

'There were five of us. What we did was we swam through that stuff, we aquaplaned, for what seemed like hours till we made it here to dry land. We left our two dogs behind - an Alsatian and a corgi - and we thought they were dead but then we found them next morning. They'd swum behind us.'

JOHANNESBURG - The South African government yesterday offered a new proposal to the Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, on the future of the Zulu nation after the April elections, South African Television reported, AFP reports.

It said that delegations representing the two sides expressed 'cautious optimism' over the deal but refused to comment after a two-day meeting in a Cape hotel.

Suggested Topics
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering