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River of Death

October 7, 2010


Slovak Cemetery in Stara Pazova. The empty section of the cemetery on the left holds the unmarked graves of 486 Slovaks who died in 1849 from cholera. The site must remain untouched for 200 years before it can be used again for burials.


In the middle of the night he was seized with vomiting, and with purging of a fluid like water-gruel in vast quantities; when visited by medical men, he spoke in a husky whisper, his nails were blue, his skin livid, covered by cold sweat, his limbs cramped. The spasms ceased about nine o’clock on Monday morning; about noon he asked to be raised in bed, and died as they were raising him.  Description of the death of an English shoemaker in 1836 by cholera, quoted by Robinson Yost of Kirkwood Community College.

The thick, red waves of toxic sludge pushed their way out of the metals plant reservoir in Hungary yesterday and crashed through the homes of nearby Hungarian residents, only a few hundred kilometers from where Pauline lived.  Already every living thing in the Marcal River, which the slurry infiltrated yesterday, has been killed.



Pauline's beloved Danube River, May 2010


Government officials have been working furiously to stop its flow into the second largest river in Europe, the Danube, to no avail (it entered the river today), all the while attempting to assure the public that there is little risk to the countries downstream that depend on the Danube for their water supply – including Serbia and Croatia.

In 1836 and again in 1849 when hundreds of thousands of people in the same area began to die, no one understood the link between the drinking water and the deaths.  The cholera epidemics reminded people of the Bubonic Plague four centuries earlier; both wiped out 25-30% of the entire population.


Bloodletting 1850 - one of only 3 known photos of this 3000 yr old procedure


The first to die in Alzbeta (Suster) and Jan Imrek’s family was 9 year old Ondrej, soon followed by sisters Juliana (19) and Katerina (17).  Of their 8 children, only 1 survived to adulthood, Zuzana (another daughter died at the age of 9 a few years later, and three sons died as infants).   I suspect their water supply was contaminated, either through unsanitary conditions or from a hazardous source.  Fortunately, it appears that no other Suster family members died during the 1849 epidemic.


Mother posing with her dead baby in 1850 (US), not unusual for the time


Treatment at the time included blood-letting, laudanum (opium treatments) and saline solutions, all futile.  No link had yet been made between bacteria in the water and the illness, and to this day, no vaccine is available, and the only prevention or cure is hydration with clean water.


Vojvodina's fields of poppies were harvested to provide opium for the treatment of cholera


The disease hit Slovaks incredibly hard.  In the village of Pazova for example, 486 Slovaks died, but not one Serbian. People began to suspect that the government was poisoning them, and this enraged the peasants (it turns out the two groups, living in separate sections of town, had different water supplies).  Civil unrest had reached a boiling point in 1848/49, and these deaths only fueled the anger of the various ethnic minorities that had been exiled to the plains along the Danube.


Danube River flows along the blue line -red bucket is where the sludge started, and stone house is where Pivnice is


In the latter half of the 18th century, when the link between polluted water and cholera was made, extensive efforts were made to upgrade the water system.  The current toxic sludge contamination has been called one of the worst environmental disasters of the last 30 years in Europe, and vinegar of all things is being poured into the Danube to lower the water’s pH level (which is at an all time high of 13 on a scale of 0 to 14).  Lets hope the vinegar helps prevent another tragedy of epic proportions along Pauline’s beloved Danube.



Hungarian Toxic Sludge Images


6 Comments leave one →
  1. Stan permalink
    October 7, 2010 2:15 pm

    The current disaster is unimaginable. It will take years to clean it all up. Until then the Danube will suffer horribly, despite the VINEGAR !! In 2010 we show our inability to cope despite sending men to the moon. If that had been the Mississippi……

    • October 7, 2010 2:51 pm

      Or Louisiana 5 years ago. Incredible that the best they can come up with is vinegar. Everything else so far has failed. This will devastate the crops in Europe’s bread basket – Vojvodina.

  2. October 7, 2010 4:05 pm

    Alzbeta Suster was the sister of my great 5x grandfather, Jan Suster, They were both grandchildren of Stefan and Maria Suster, the oldest known Suster relatives.

  3. October 7, 2010 4:59 pm

    Interesting is one, that when it happen in communist state of SSSR (Chernobil) – all around globe made from it story – but when it happen in now democratic Hungary – no one go with horror story cover. We can compare this with Bhopal (India) tragedy – and great EU will need to very apologize to non-EU countries that will be affected, especially in the case if water supply will be affected.

    When I see in my memory, so nice Danube, so nice channel DTD (Danube-Tisa-Danube), and now this red poisonous water coming to green fields of Voivodina – I start to think that someone MUST to be in jail!!!

  4. The Burns Archive permalink
    May 18, 2011 11:31 am

    Could you please credit out images? Thanks- The Burns Archive.

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