Hundreds missing, feared dead after Vale dam collapses in Brazil

Paulo Fonseca  EPA via Shutterstock

Paulo Fonseca EPA via Shutterstock

The dam, which is used to hold residue from the Feijão iron ore mine, is owned by Brazil's largest mining company, Vale.

Eleven people were confirmed dead but Romeu Zema, the state governor, said that the chances of finding anyone alive were slim.

"We're talking about probably a large number of victims - we don't know how many but we know it will be a high number", he said.

Almost half of those missing worked in Vale's administrative offices in the mining complex, according to local firefighters.

A dam holding back mining waste in the Brazilian city of Brumadinho collapsed Friday, forcing the evacuation of 100 Vale workers, with another 200 still missing.

"I'm anxious, I want news", 28-year-old Helton Pereira told the BBC as he waited outside a hospital in nearby Belo Horizonte - his 28-year-old wife and 35-year-old sister worked at the dam's cafeteria and were both missing.

The latest dam burst could undercut new President Jair Bolsonaro's promise to cut regulation in the sector and could make investors already wary of investing in Brazil's mining sector even more hesitant.

The rivers of mining waste are raising fears of widespread contamination. Several helicopters flew over the area on Saturday while firefighters carefully traversed heavily inundated areas looking for survivors.

Authorities co-ordinating the rescue effort urged volunteers to stay away because of the unsafe conditions, while media organisations were asked not to use drones in order to avoid collisions with helicopters.

A "breach" Friday caused mining debris to spill into the mine's administrative area, where employees were working, according to Vale.

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On Friday, Minas Gerais state court blocked $260 million from Vale for state emergency services and is requiring the company to present a report about how they will help victims.

Vale Chief Executive Fabio Schvartsman said on Friday the dam that burst was being decommissioned and its capacity was about a fifth of the total waste spilled at Samarco.

Nineteen people were killed when the village of Bento Rodrigues, also in Minas Gerais, was destroyed when a dam owned by Samarco, a joint venture by Vale and another Brazilian company, collapsed in November 2015.

"The UN regrets the immeasurable loss of lives and significant damage to the environment and human settlements", a statement said.

That accident three years ago released millions of tons of toxic iron waste along hundreds of kilometers (miles), causing what is considered the country's worst environmental disaster.

Bolsonaro, who assumed office January 1, did a flyover of the area on Saturday.

On Twitter, he said his government would do everything it could to "prevent more tragedies" like Mariana and now Brumadinho.

A dam has failed at an iron ore mine in southeastern Brazil, unleashing a massive mudflow that buried the mining site and reached a nearby community, local officials say.

Former environmental minister and presidential candidate Marina Silva said Brazilian authorities and private miners had not learned anything from the 2015 Samarco disaster near the city of Mariana and called it unacceptable.

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