As many as 200 people are missing after three dams operated by the mining giant Vale collapsed in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, releasing a wave of red mining waste and prompting fears of widespread contamination.
At least 50 people died in the disaster on Friday, Avimar de Melo, mayor of the nearby town of Brumadinho told the Hoje em Dia newspaper. “We don’t have any more details because it’s all happening very quickly,” he said [hojeemdia.com.br].
Brazilian television showed images of survivors being winched to safety by a helicopter after the disaster at the Feijão mine near Brumadinho, less than two hours from the state capital, Belo Horizonte.
Among those missing were 100 mine workers who were having lunch in an administrative area when it was hit by a torrent of sludge and water, said a fire brigade spokesman, Lieutenant Pedro Aihara.
“Our main worry now is to quickly find out where the missing people are,” Aihara said on GloboNews cable television channel.
Videos shared on social media showed houses buried in the mud and local media reported that the nearby Inhotim outdoor art complex had been evacuated though not affected.
The dam collapse came less than four years after Brazil’s worst environmental disaster was caused by the failure of a tailings dam at Mariana in the same state. That dam was operated by Samarco, which at the time of the disaster was half-owned by Vale.
“I don’t have words to describe my suffering, my enormous sadness, my disappointment in what has just happened. It is beyond anything you can imagine,” Vale’s CEO, Fabio Schvartsman, said [youtube.com] in an address on YouTube.
He said the company had made an “enormous effort” to make its tailings dams safe after the Mariana disaster. “The whole of Vale will do whatever is possible to help the people affected,” he said.