Sea of Mud and Waste Leaves 9 Dead, 300 Missing

Dam collapse devastates Brumadinho, Brazil
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 26, 2019 9:00 AM CST
A structure lies in ruins after a dam collapsed near Brumadinho, Brazil, on Friday.   (Leo Drumond/Nitro via AP)
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(Newser) – Rescuers in helicopters on Saturday searched for survivors in a huge area in southeastern Brazil buried by mud from the collapse of a dam holding back mine waste, with at least nine people dead and up to 300 missing. Nearly a full day since the disaster happened, finding many more survivors was looking increasingly unlikely, per the AP. "Most likely, from now on we are mostly going to be recovering bodies," says Romeu Zema, the governor of the state of Minas Gerais. Workers with Brazilian mining company Vale were eating lunch Friday afternoon when the dam collapsed, unleashing a sea of reddish-brown mud that knocked over and buried several structures of the company and surrounding areas. The status of the workers and others in Brumadinho was unknown Saturday, but the level of devastation quickly led President Jair Bolsonaro and other officials to describe it as a "tragedy."

Nine bodies had been recovered by Saturday, per a statement from Zema's office. Vale CEO Fabio Schvartsman said he didn't know what caused the collapse. About 300 employees were working when it happened; about 100 had been accounted for. After the dam collapsed in the afternoon, parts of Brumadinho were evacuated, and firefighters rescued people by helicopter and ground vehicles. The flow of waste reached a nearby community. "I've never seen anything like it," the president of a Brumadinho residents' association says. "It was horrible ... the amount of mud that took over." Another dam administered by Vale and Australian mining company BHP Billiton collapsed in 2015 in the city of Mariana in Minas Gerais state, resulting in 19 deaths and forcing hundreds from their homes.It was considered the worst environmental disaster in Brazilian history, leaving 250,000 people without drinking water and killing thousands of fish. (Read more Brazil stories.)

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