Neighbours of a Brazilian iron ore mine evacuated after a dam ruptured, spewing mud and waste into the surrounding area

Hundreds of people are missing after a dam collapse in southeast Brazil unleashed a torrent of mud on the riverside town Brumadinho.

The dam burst yesterday, oozing sludge onto surrounding farmland and destroying houses, with 200 people missing and many feared dead, according to officials in the South American nation.

President Jair Bolsonaro was due to visit the affected zone around the town of Brumadinho, which is located near the city of Belo Horizonte, on Saturday, a government spokesman said.

His government, facing its first big emergency since taking office, set up urgent co-ordination between the defence, environment and mining ministries to bolster operations by the state of Minas Gerais.

The collapsed dam near Brumadinho on January 25, 2019 has caused major flooding. Picture: Bruno Correia/Nitro via AP

The collapsed dam near Brumadinho on January 25, 2019 has caused major flooding. Picture: Bruno Correia/Nitro via APSource:AP

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gives a statement in Brazil on January 25, 2019 after the collapse of a dam near Brumadinho in southeastern Brazil. Picture: Sergio LIMA/AFP

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gives a statement in Brazil on January 25, 2019 after the collapse of a dam near Brumadinho in southeastern Brazil. Picture: Sergio LIMA/AFPSource:AFP

Access to Brumadinho — population 39,000 — was difficult after the mud cut across roads, hampering officials’ ability to determine the scope and gravity of the disaster.

A fire service official told AFP initial accounts received indicated “there were several deaths.” In the statement, the fire service said it confirmed “the disappearance of approximately 200 people.”

A firefighters

A firefighters’ helicopter flies over the area as rescuers work in the search for victims. Picture: Douglas MagnoSource:AFP

A road blocked after the dam collapsed. Picture: Leo Drumond/Nitro via AP

A road blocked after the dam collapsed. Picture: Leo Drumond/Nitro via APSource:AP

STUCK IN THE MUD

Television broadcasts have since shown helicopters being used to rescue people stuck in mud, and a wide swath of destruction carved through vegetation and farmland, in which damaged and destroyed houses were dotted.

Four people were taken to hospital and were in a stable condition. A separate statement by the environment ministry said that “the initial preoccupation of the federal government is the rescue of victims, giving support to the region, and protecting water-catchment areas.”

The dam belonged to Brazil’s giant mining company Vale, which confirmed its collapse and said “the total priority is to protect the lives of employees and inhabitants.”

It did not say what caused the collapse.

Shares in Vale fell around 10 per cent in New York trading. The Sao Paulo stock market was closed Friday for a holiday.

Bolsonaro, in an interview with Brumadinho’s Radio Regional FM, said he “deeply regretted” the dam collapse, which “is possibly more serious than thought” because it might have swept away Vale workers.

Aerial view of a fallen bridge taken after the dam collapse. Picture: Douglas Magno/AFP

Aerial view of a fallen bridge taken after the dam collapse. Picture: Douglas Magno/AFPSource:AFP

The burst dam resulted in a large area of surrounding farmland being covered in potentially toxic sludge. (Photo by Douglas Magno / AFP)

The burst dam resulted in a large area of surrounding farmland being covered in potentially toxic sludge. (Photo by Douglas Magno / AFP)Source:AFP

HISTORY REPEATING ITSELF

This isn’t the first time an accident of this nature has struck.

Friday’s disaster recalled trauma from a 2015 dam break in a different part of the same state of Minas Gerais, in Mariana, in which 19 people died.

That accident three years ago released millions of tons of toxic iron waste along hundreds of kilometres, causing what is considered the country’s worst environmental disaster.

Vale was joint operator of that dam, along with the Anglo-Australian group BHP.

EVACUATIONS

An emergency team from the Ibama environmental protection agency had been dispatched to the zone impacted by Friday’s dam collapse to determine the damage, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles told the G1 news website. He was to visit Brumaldinho late Friday.

Ibama estimated that the collapse had released a million tons of water and mud, according to the Estadao newspaper.

An AFP photographer said police had blocked access roads to Brumadinho.

Civil defence officials said people living in low-lying areas in the town had been evacuated.

Brumadinho’s municipality issued an alert on social media warning residents to move away from the Paraopeba river that the dam had been holding back.

The town is best known to tourists for Inhotim, an outdoor contemporary art museum, which was evacuated as a precaution.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *