26, January 2019
A dam collapse in southeastern Brazil unleashed a torrent of mud on a riverside town and surrounding farmland Friday, leaving several people dead and 150 more missing.
Rescuers arrived at the scene of the incident, which has so far left at least seven people dead, according to officials.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was 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 in the New Year, set up urgent coordination between the defense, environment and mining ministries to bolster operations by the state of Minas Gerais.
Access to Brumaldinho — 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.”
Television images showed 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.
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.
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 kilometers (miles), causing what is considered the country’s worst environmental disaster.
Vale was the joint operator of that dam, along with the Anglo-Australian group BHP.