The village of Geamana once lay deep in a fertile valley, today it lies under 90 meters of industrial waste.
All 2017 photos Copyright Amos Chapple/RFE/RL. Archive images courtesy Cornel Holhorea.
40 years after the Romanian village was evacuated, me and a local photographer Ciprian Hord met some of the locals who refused to leave
We discovered it’s not just the buildings entombed under the mire…
Geamana in the early 1970s (yes, that’s the same church spire). Plans for extracting copper from a nearby mountain were already underway
In the spring of 1977, prospectors sent by the communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, arrived in Geamana and told locals to get ready for a life elsewhere. The villagers were offered around $2,000 compensation for their homes. Geamana’s 300 families then scattered throughout Romania…
Work at the Rosia Poieni mine began in earnest. This is the second-largest copper mine in Europe and employs around 500 people
Note the multi-coloured runoff lake in the background, where the village once stood.
The same lake, with the mine in the top right of the drone picture
Once communist authorities built the dam in the foreground to seal up Geamana’s valley, a silty grey liquid began creeping through the lanes of the village.
The slurry, which continues to slop into the valley today, is a result of “froth flotation,” a process used by most copper mines
It is this waste that drowned Geamana. The lake continues to rise, climbing the walls of the valley at the rate of around 1 vertical meter each year
Along with the slurry from the mine, some sections of the runoff lake have turned red from “acid mine drainage”
The acidic red water is a result of rain and spring-water running through the minerals exposed by the mine
The process occurs naturally, but mining intensifies its effect
But despite the inundation, not everyone left Geamana’s valley
Maria Prata is one of around 20 villagers who stayed, moving to higher ground as the lake rose
The 70-year-old says she spent her childhood in Geamana sleeping in a stable, “me on one side, the cows on the other.”
Maria Prata and her late husband photographed a few years before the prospectors arrived
She is surprisingly chill about the activity of the mine. “What’s done is done. The village is ruined now. At least [with the mine here], the people have work.” But like other remaining villagers, she holds real bitterness for one promise that the communist authorities broke.
The villagers were assured that their ancestors’ graves would be relocated. It never happened
This graveyard was flooded only in the past few years. Many other graves lie deep beneath the slurry and are now virtually impossible to recover
Ana Prata tends to the grave that she will share with her husband, who died in 2012
It lies on a hill high above the lake, a precaution against the fate of Ana’s parents and grandparents whose graves lie entombed under meters of slurry.
Nicolae Turdean, the general manager of the Rosia Poieni mine, speaking with media at the runoff lake
He told us he knew nothing about the graves currently being submerged but said a church near those graves would be moved.
Turdean told us the villagers who remained in the valley after being given compensation “are living in our houses. But we tolerate the situation and will continue to tolerate the situation as long as they don’t affect the works around”
But the instagram fame of this site is bringing attention the state-run mine appears eager to dodge
Former Geamana local Cornel Holhorea told us the mining company had tried to demolish the spire of this church around five years ago
The work was canceled after an outcry from Geamana locals. But as the lake continues to rise, soon the last remnants of this village will be gone forever