RIO DE JANEIRO – Seven people died on Friday after a tailings dam burst at a mine in southeastern Brazil owned by Vale, the world’s largest iron-ore producer, the Minas Gerais state government said.
Besides the seven bodies recovered, first responders took nine injured survivors to hospitals, while some 100 people initially listed as missing were found safe and sound, according to a statement.
Another 150 people, most of them Vale employees, remained unaccounted for, authorities said.
The dam in Brumadinho, Minas Gerais, broke at around mid-day, unleashing a river of sludge that destroyed some nearby houses.
Vale said managers had been able to account for 279 of the 427 workers who were on site at the time of the accident.
“We don’t know how many were in the plant restaurant, as it was lunch hour, nor how many in one of the administration buildings,” Vale CEO Fabio Schvartsman told a press conference in Rio de Janeiro.
“We don’t know what happened. It’s very premature to have information about the causes of the accident,” he said.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is scheduled to visit the site of the disaster on Saturday, said his administration’s biggest concern was attending to victims of the “serious tragedy.”
Television footage showed a flood of mine waste, mud and water sweeping over homes, vehicles and other objects that lay in its path.
The incident comes three years after the rupture of two tailings dams at the Samarco mine, also located in Minas Gerais and owned as a joint venture by Vale and BHP Billiton, left 19 dead and caused Brazil’s worst-ever environmental catastrophe.
Bento Rodrigues, the most affected village, was virtually wiped off the map by the avalanche of mud and mining sludge, which destroyed 158 of its 180 houses and damaged the other 22.
That 2015 mudslide also swept away cropland and pastureland and sent heavy metals flowing into the Doce River, which is one of the largest in southeastern Brazil and a source of water for several cities.
Three years later, many family members of those killed in the mine disaster have not yet received monetary compensation, the process of rebuilding the homes of nearly 400 affected families has yet to begin and the ongoing criminal investigation has not yet resulted in any convictions.