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Fiberglass and rose hip - Cigel, Slovakia

Posted by
Michael Skorulski (Toronto, Canada) on 1 March 2008 in Miscellaneous and Portfolio.

In the fields around Cigel, you can still find bits of charred fiberglass clinging to trees and burnt tar paper littering fields. These were carried here by explosions that happened at an arms depot 7 kilometers away in Novaky. The blasts happened a year ago tomorrow. There follows a story I wrote at the time:

Detonation in Novaky (March 2, 2007)
by Michael Skorulski

Wumpf! The first blast wave bashes into the house like an angry fist. The aluminum roof groans and shudders. Windows vibrate. The computer screen dies. A distant thud assaults the ears.

What the hell...outer rim of nuclear detonation...sickening cringe...third world war beginning in Europe...flashback...German artillery shells crashing into spruce, oak, beech, flushing out fleeing partisans in surrounding mountains...Russian planes bombing cartloads of peasants...coal mine blast, power station, environmental catastrophe exploding chemical factory...?

I skulk slowly up the steps to the attic room, peer out the back window. Furious black smoke swirls into the sky obscuring Bojnice Castle, eight kilometers distant across the valley.

A bright yellow flash. The blast wave flings itself against the house. Stone walls crack. Windows rattle violently. Instinctively, I duck down. Food stuffs fly from pantry shelves.

Just a tad more and the windows would blow out.

Kaboom! The explosion bellows. In Cigel's ancient village church, the outer door slams shut, windows shake, stone walls groan. The electric organ is silenced. Worshippers at evening Mass peer about perplexed. Thirteen kilometers over the mountain in Handlova, the detonation shakes the clinic, frightening the nurses.

Black smoke high in the sky menaces surrounding villages. I scan the area with binoculars. The coal mine, power plant and chemical factory appear untouched. The smoke is rising from the direction of the airport. But what's down there? Someone, somewhere has to be dead. Calamity reigns.

I wait, fearful, excited. Get the candle ready for lighting, search for our camping lantern. Hear voices. People are coming back from church. I run outside.

"Stay in the house, Michael. It's dangerous outside." my father-in-law, Peter Vazan warns in Slovak. "Things are flying around." His face is grim.

"Daddy! Daddy!" my daughter, Kika, 14, shouts. "The road is covered with stuff."

Ignoring the warnings, I bolt into the street and pick up this charred black object. It's a fragment of shingle, burnt but recognizable. I find another, then another. I carry them to the house and deposit them on the window ledge.

"The explosions carried them here," my wife, Marta declares. "We heard one explosion, then another much louder. Everyone in church was afraid. I immediately thought, it's terrorists." We had lived through a terrorist attack in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia. Extremists slaughtered five American co-workers, hurled a pipe bomb at the international school and rampaged through the streets shooting indiscriminately. We had huddled in the house listening to gunfire.

"I don't think it's terrorists," Peter opined, in his quiet knowledgeable way. "The blast came from the army base."

That evening when the news comes on at 7, villagers from central Slovakia are glued to their television sets. At a weapons disposal depot, 7 kilometers away in Novaky, technicians dismantling NATO or Warsaw Pact explosives have perhaps been careless, possibly connected the wrong wires. Nobody knows for sure what happened. The blasts, the largest measuring 2.2 on the Richter scale, flatten the base for hundreds of meters in all directions and blow out windows 10 kilometers away. Two people die instantly, 6 are missing and more than 20 people are injured.