Hungary declared a state of emergency after an aluminum factory's waste reservoir burst on Monday and flooded nearby towns with a red, toxic sludge that burned villagers "to the bone."
35.3 million cubic feet of alumina waste gushed through streets in waves 12 feet high, sweeping cars from the road and damaging bridges, crops, and homes. By midday, 16 square miles were swamped under the rust-colored menace.
The ecological disaster has so far claimed at least four lives, with more than 100 injured.
Environmentalists blamed the factory's owners for not modernizing the plant to prevent the reservoir's breach.
"Now we, the public, will have to pay the real bill," Robert Fidrich, of Friends of the Earth in Hungary, told Reuters. "You can forget about cleaning up those villages … nobody will be able to live there for 10 years or more. It has affected the lives of hundreds of people."
Authorities expect the cleanup to take at least a year.