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News > Brazil

Brazil's Dam Burst Deaths Rise to 60, 300 Still Missing

  • Members of a rescue team search for victims after a tailings dam owned by Brazilian mining company Vale SA collapsed, in Brumadinho, Brazil Jan. 28, 2019.

    Members of a rescue team search for victims after a tailings dam owned by Brazilian mining company Vale SA collapsed, in Brumadinho, Brazil Jan. 28, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 28 January 2019

The death toll in the aftermath of Brazil's dam burst has increased to 60 with 300 still missing, as victims clamour for accountability among denials by dam company. 

By Monday, firefighters in the state of Minas Gerais had confirmed 60 people were dead from Friday's disaster in which a tailings dam broke, sending a torrent of sludge into the miner's offices and into the town of Brumadinho. Nearly 300 other people are unaccounted for, and officials said it was unlikely that any would be found alive.


Brazil: 24,000 Ordered to Evacuate After Dam Burst Tragedy

Vale shares plummeted 17 percent in Monday trading on the Sao Paulo stock exchange, which had been closed Friday.

Brazil's top prosecutor Raquel Dodge, said the company should be held firmly responsible and criminally prosecuted. Executives could also be personally held responsible, she said.

Vale Chief Executive Fabio Schvartsman said during a visit to Brumadinho Sunday that facilities there were built to code and equipment had shown the dam was stable two weeks earlier.

As search efforts continued Monday, firefighters laid down wood planks to cross a sea of sludge that is hundreds of meters wide in places, to reach a bus in search of bodies inside. Villagers discovered the bus as they tried to rescue a nearby cow stuck in the mud.

Longtime resident Ademir Rogerio cried as he surveyed the mud where Vale's facilities once stood on the edge of town.

Indigenous people from the Pataxo Ha-ha - hae tribe look at Paraopeba river, after a tailings dam owned by Brazilian mining company Vale SA collapsed. | Photo: Reuters

"The world is over for us," he said. "Vale is the top mining company in the world. If this could happen here, imagine what would happen if it were a smaller miner."

Nestor Jose de Mury said he lost his nephew and coworkers in the mud.

"I've never seen anything like it, it killed everyone," he said.

The board of Vale, which has raised its dividends over the last year, suspended all shareholder payouts and executive bonuses late Sunday, as the disaster put its corporate strategy under scrutiny.

"I'm not a mining technician. I followed the technicians' advice and you see what happened. It didn't work," Vale CEO Schvartsman said in a TV interview. "We are 100 percent within all the standards, and that didn't do it."

Many wondered if the state of Minas Gerais, with its name translated from Portuguese as General Mines, a trade which has shaped its landscape for centuries, should have higher standards.

Vale S.A. CEO Fabio Schvartsman attends a news conference in Rio de Janeiro. | Photo: Reuters

"There are safe ways of mining," said Joao Vitor Xavier, head of the mining and energy commission in the state assembly. "It's just that it diminishes profit margins, so they prefer to do things the cheaper way – and put lives at risk."

Reaction to the disaster could threaten newly-inaugurated far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's plans to relax restrictions on the mining industry, including proposals to open up Indigenous reservations and large swaths of the Amazon jungle for mining which will be disastrous for the environment and the Indigenous population.

Mines and Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque proposed in an interview late Sunday with newspaper O Estado de Sao Paulo, that the law should be changed to assign responsibility in cases such as Brumadinho to the people responsible for certifying the safety of mining dams.

"Current law does not prevent disasters like the one we saw on Brumadinho", he said. "The model for verifying the state of mining dams will have to be reconsidered. The model isn't good."

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