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Friday, 8 November, 2002, 13:50 GMT
Proud town's greatest tragedy
The BBC's Wales Correspondent Wyre Davies remembers the horror of the Corus steel explosion one year on.

One of the first things that struck me as I stood outside the giant steel works at Port Talbot on that Thursday night a year ago, was how cold it was.

It was freezing underfoot - so cold that, after a couple of hours, it was impossible to stand still.


The agony and pain that those young men suffered that night was felt and recognised by the whole town

You had to hop from foot to foot. You had to rub your jaw to speak coherently.

Even the relatively simple procedural task of doing radio and television interviews became a chore as my tongue and vocal chords felt like they were freezing over.

These details only matter because the conditions faced by the desperate steelworkers, only a few hundred yards the other side of the plant's perimeter fence, couldn't have been more different.

It was then, and still is now, impossible to really visualise the hellish inferno that followed the explosion in blast furnace number five.

Is there such a thing as either a "nice" or "terrible" way to die ?

If there is, then what happened to Stephen Galsworthy, Andrew Hutin and Len Radford that night was terrible beyond comprehension.

Stephen Galsworthy
Stephen Galsworthy died in the blast

These were brave men who worked in a physical, dangerous profession - albeit one where modern safety standards and regulations should have prevented such a tragedy.

Industrial disasters should be memories of a bygone age when the rush to modernise, to develop - and where safety was little more than an afterthought - meant that Welsh miners, steelworkers and builders involuntarily surrendered their lives.

Many of us, who take the niceties and comforts of 21st Century life for granted ,surely owe much to the thousands of men who were crushed, burned and maimed in the pursuit of nation-building.

That young men are still dying in the work-place today is an abomination.

Port Talbot is, arguably, one of the most-maligned and ridiculed towns in Britain.

Port Talbot steelworks
An inquiry into the blast has been completed

Cynics, from far "prettier" parts of Wales, suggest that planners deliberately chose to locate the many of our ugliest, dirtiest and smelliest industries within a few miles of each other between Porthcawl and Swansea.

But the people of Port Talbot are as proud and as defensive as any other community.

It is then no surprise that they pulled together for comfort and support after the explosion which rocked the steelworks exactly one year ago.

Outsiders, journalists especially, were shut out as families stoically and silently dealt with their grief.

There is hardly a household in the town from where someone leaves each morning (or evening, depending on the shifts) to work in the giant Corus plant.

Hellish scenes

The works still dominate the landscape, even though cutbacks have drastically reduced the numbers employed there in recent years.

The dead and injured men were all well-known.

The agony and pain that those young men suffered that night was felt and recognised by the whole town.

One year on, the plant is still churning out steel.

Corus has promised to rebuild the destroyed furnace, at least guaranteeing jobs for the 3,000 men who work in the dirty, sweltering conditions.

But for those of us who don't really understand what "it" is all about, and can only imagine the hellish scenes that night, Port Talbot is still a cold and unforgiving place.

Steelworks Blast

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08 Nov 02 | Wales
23 Oct 02 | Wales
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