Sun, Jan 27, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Rescuers search for 300 missing after Brazil dam collapse


A helicopter on Friday flies over firefighters searching for victims after the collapse of a dam near Brumadinho, Brazil, on Friday.

Photo: AFP

Rescuers worked overnight into yesterday morning searching for about 300 people missing after a dam collapse at a mine in southeast Brazil killed at least nine, but the local governor said that the “odds are minimal” that they would be found alive.

Seven bodies were recovered on Friday hours after the disaster, which saw a torrent of mud break through the disused dam at the iron-ore mine close to the city of Belo Horizonte in the state of Minas Gerias at about 1pm.

By early yesterday, the official death toll had risen to nine, with “nearly 300 people missing,” the local fire department said, doubling the number of people presumed missing from an earlier toll.

Up to 150 of those missing worked in the company’s administrative offices, which were closest to the dam, the department said.

The mine is owned by Vale, a Brazilian mining giant that was involved in a 2015 mine collapse in the state that claimed 19 lives and is regarded as the country’s worst-ever environmental disaster.

Vale shares plummeted after Friday’s incident, losing 8 percent in New York trading.

Minas Gerais Governor Romeu Zema told reporters that while all was being done to find survivors, “from now, the odds are minimal and it is most likely we will recover only bodies.”

His administration said that 427 people had been working at the Vale mine at the time of the dam collapse and 279 were recovered alive.

The others were listed as missing.

The massive, muddy flow from the collapse barreled toward the nearby town of Brumadinho, population 39,000, but did not hit it directly.

Instead, it carved its way across roads, vegetation and farmland, taking down a bridge and damaging or destroying homes.

TV broadcasts showed people being pulled out of waist-high mud into rescue helicopters, dozens of which were in use late on Friday because of the cut-off land access.

The new government led by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted to its first big emergency since taking office early this month by launching disaster coordination efforts between the defense, mining and environmental ministries and authorities in Minas Gerais.

Bolsonaro and his defense minister were yesterday scheduled to fly over the zone. His environment minister raced to the area late on Friday.

Officials said that they were working through the night, conscious of the precious hours ticking away.

Would-be rescue volunteers were warned away because of the slippery, perilous piles of mud. Media were urged not to use drones to avoid collisions with the helicopters.

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