Ten dead, hundreds missing following dam burst at iron ore mine in Brazil

Rescue crew work in a tailings dam owned by Brazilian miner Vale SA that burst, in Brumadinho, Brazil.

Teams of rescuers were preparing to dig through thick mud on Saturday in a search for survivors of a dam burst at a Brazilian iron ore mine owned by Vale SA that left hundreds missing and halted operations.

Firefighters focused their hopes on a bus, a train, mining offices and nearby homes that were buried on Friday when a torrent of mud was unleashed by the dam break at Vale’s Corrego do Feijao facility in Minas Gerais state.

More than a dozen helicopters flew over the area on Saturday to survey the disaster and aid the rescue teams.

The state fire department said in a statement that only 10 bodies had been found so far. In a separate statement, the department reduced the number of missing to roughly 300 people, after 46 were found alive.

“Unfortunately, at this point, the chances of finding survivors are minimal. We’re likely to just be recovering bodies,” Romeu Zema, governor of Minas Gerais, told local media.

During a press conference, Zema said the mining complex had all its permits in order and it was unclear what caused the collapse of the dam, which had been inactive for years.

The National Mining Agency ordered Vale, the largest producer of iron ore in the world, to halt operations at the Corrego do Feijao mine, located near the town of Brumadinho in mining-focused Minas Gerais, according to a document.

State prosecutors have requested that 5 billion reais (an equivalent of $1.33 billion) in Vale’s accounts be frozen to be directed toward efforts to pay for damages, Antonio Sergio Tonet, a prosecutor with the Minas Gerais Justice Department, told reporters, saying he expected more assets to be frozen.

Earlier, a state judge ordered Vale to freeze 1 billion reais in its accounts.

Brazilian environmental agency Ibama also fined Vale SA 250 million reais (an equivalent of $66.32 million) for various violations.

Vale caused pollution, made the area unfit for habitation and committed other regulatory violations, with each of the five violations carrying a fine of 50 million reais, Ibama said in a statement on Saturday.

The death toll was expected to rise sharply, according to Avimar de Melo Barcelos, the mayor of Brumadinho.

Israel has offered to send search equipment that could be used to find victims in up to 10 meters (33 feet) of mud, Zema said. Search dogs were being flown in from Rio de Janeiro to aid in the rescue efforts.

All of those missing are Vale employees or contractors, a police spokesman said.

“I know a lot of the affected people: Two sisters-in-law, a cousin, many friends there in the community. They’re in the mud,” local resident Carlos Jose dos Santos said.

Minas Gerais is still recovering from the 2015 collapse of a larger dam that killed 19 people in Brazil’s worst environmental disaster. That dam, owned by the Samarco Mineracao SA joint venture between Vale and BHP Group Ltd, buried a village and poured toxic waste into a major river.

New Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro visited Minas Gerais and flew over the disaster area Saturday morning. He dispatched three ministers to the area, who addressed reporters after Zema.

Vale Chief Executive Fabio Schvartsman said the dam that burst on Friday was being decommissioned and its capacity was about a fifth of the total waste spilled at Samarco. He said equipment had shown the dam was stable on January 10 and it was too soon to say why it collapsed.

The Corrego do Feijao mine is one of four in Vale’s Paraoeba complex, which includes two processing plants. The complex produced 26 million tonnes of iron ore in 2017, or about 7 percent of Vale’s output, with Corrego do Feijao accounting for 7.8 million tonnes, according to the company’s website.

Operations at Samarco remain halted over new licensing, while the companies have worked to pay damages out of court, including an agreement that quashed a 20 billion reais (an equivalent of $5.31 billion) civil lawsuit last year. Federal prosecutors suspended but have not closed an even larger lawsuit.

One thought on “Ten dead, hundreds missing following dam burst at iron ore mine in Brazil

  1. Some newspapers have reported that on 25 January , 2019 , The Retiro Baixo Hydroelectric Dam of Brazil burst at 135 miles away located iron mine , causing severe flooding. At least 34 are reported to have died while hundreds are missing. In this regard , it is apt to mention this writer’s alert for more care and appropriate strategy through predictive article – “ World Predictions 2019” – sent to a large number of newspapers and websites across the world during mid-November , and after in 2018. It was also pasted extensively through +google at large number of newspapers. The alert which can be related to the tragedy of bursting of hydroelectric Dam in Brazil had following text in the aforesaid predictive article “ World Predictions 2019” :-
    “ More vigilance and alertness called for while handling or dealing with fire or fire-sensitive substances like ……….hydro-power. These concerns could begin to reveal in some form a little before the year 2018 comes to a close and pass on to first three months of new year 2019 , more so in February –March. The countries likely to be vulnerable to aforesaid concerns can be ……..Brazil”. It will thus be noted that the alert of a major worrisome concern is clear and complete. It answers these key ingredients of a perfect alert as “ what , where and when”.

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