SAO PAULO – The number of confirmed fatalities following the Jan. 25 failure of a mine tailings dam in the southeastern Brazilian town of Brumadinho reached 134 on Monday, the Minas Gerais state fire department said.
Another 199 people remain unaccounted for following the disaster at the mine in Brumadinho, which is owned by Brazil’s Vale, the world’s largest iron-ore producer.
The task of finding and recovering additional bodies has already been almost completely resumed after work was suspended due to heavy rainfall.
The possibility of finding survivors is “minimal” and it is even possible that some bodies will never be recovered from the sea of mud left behind by the catastrophe, the fire department spokesman, Lt. Pedro Aihara, told reporters.
Heavy rains forced authorities to delay search tasks on Monday because of the risk that the mine waste still located around the failed dam will shift and cascade into the area where the rescue brigades are working.
Built in 1976, the dam had the capacity to store about 13 million cubic meters (459 million cubic feet) of mine tailings and water, which forcefully swept into and destroyed the Vale administrative area, along with houses, farms, inns and roads in just a few minutes.
The rescue work is complicated and proceeds slowly due to the complexity of the terrain after the tragedy, as there are areas covered by a layer of mine waste, mud and water 20 m (66 ft) thick.
Meanwhile, Brazilian police have arrested two engineers working for the German company Tüv Süd and three Vale workers accused of having allegedly fraudulently vouched for the sturdiness of the dam that ruptured in Brumadinho.
The courts have also frozen 12 billion reais ($3.18 billion) of Vale funds to guarantee the payment of compensation to victims and their families, environmental restoration and other recovery efforts.
Vale announced last week that it will end the use of all dams built using the same method as Brumadinho, that is, from mine waste and earth.
A little more than three years before Friday’s disaster in Brumadinho, a similar tailings dam collapsed at a mine jointly owned by Vale and Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP in Mariana, a municipality about 120 km (75 mi.) away, killing 19 people and causing what was until then Brazil’s worst environmental catastrophe.