BRUMADINHO, Brazil – The initial uproar is switching to indignation in this town in southeastern Brazil, where families of the victims demanded on Monday answers about the dam tragedy that left 65 dead and 275 people still unaccounted for.
“At (mining company) Vale they only think about money, life has no value for them,” Paulo Renato Oliveira, 29, told EFE at the doors of the assistance center for the victims, where some 150 volunteers among doctors, psychologists and NGO members lend a helping hand every day.
Here the news is announced very slowly and the families have said enough is enough. “Four days to be put on the list of missing persons!” a tearful woman complained to a police officer.
“My family is gone, how do they want me to act?” she cried in desperation, while the cop tried to get away amid protests from others affected by the tragedy.
Oliveira has been in this facility through most of his waking hours since last Friday in search of some information indicating the whereabouts of his 27-year-old brother, who worked temporarily as a welder in the mining complex.
The rupture of a tailings dam completely destroyed the installations that iron-ore giant Vale had in this area, and with them the lives of hundreds of families.
Not far from the assistance center, firefighters continue the difficult work of rescuing survivors and recovering the bodies of victims of the mudslide, which is 20m (65 ft) deep in some places.
Authorities also said that starting Monday they will be aided in their rescue work by some 130 Israeli soldiers, the fruit of an alliance between Brazil’s new far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
On the judicial front, Attorney General Raquel Dodge authorized the use of investigators on the ground and noted the need to “promote the criminal prosecution of groups and individuals suspected to be responsible for this disaster.”
At the same time, nearly 12 billion reais ($3.18 billion) in Vale assets have been frozen in response to court motions by the federal AG Office and the government of Minas Gerais state.
Shares of Vale plunged Monday on the Sao Paulo and New York stock exchanges and the company has suspended the payment of dividends.
“The least they can do is arrest the president” of Vale, Fabio Schvartsman, was what Natalia Farina, manager of Hostel 70 in downtown Brumadinho, told EFE.
Her brother-in-law is among the missing.
Wilson Joaquim da Fonseca, 48, still has no news of his daughter, who worked in the famed Nova Estancia inn, wiped off the face of the earth by the massive mudslide. At the time of the catastrophe it is estimated that 35 people were at the inn.
“It was a disaster foretold and nobody did anything about it, nobody did anything,” Fonseca said.
“For him (Schvartsman), people are always being replaced. One dies, you hire somebody else and put him in the same place,” an indignant Fonseca said.
EFE asked to interview some Vale spokesperson who might be at the assistance enter, but the company’s press office replied that, for now, they had no one available.
Just over three years before Friday’s rupture of the dam at the Feijao mine in Brumadinho, a similar tailings dam collapse at a mine jointly owned by Vale and Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP in Mariana, some 120 kilometers (75 miles) away, killed 19 people and caused Brazil’s worst environmental catastrophe to that point.
Schvartsman became CEO of Vale in 2017 and one of his sayings upon assuming that position was “Mariana nevermore.”