Sun, Nov 08, 2015 - Page 6 News List

At least 17 dead, 500 rescued after Brazil waste spill

TREMORS?Up to four small earthquakes were detected before the dams containing millions of cubic meters of iron mineral deposits burst, flooding an adjacent valley

AFP, MARIANA, Brazil

Rescue workers attempt to free a horse stuck in mud after a barrier at an industrial waste site failed, causing a torrent of mining waste to be released, in the village of Bento Rodrigues in southeastern Brazil on Friday.

Photo: EPA

Firefighters on Friday rescued 500 survivors from a torrent of mining waste that killed at least 17 people and destroyed a village after two dams burst in southeastern Brazil.

They searched frantically for survivors after the mudslide erupted on Thursday from waste reservoirs at the partly Australian-owned iron ore mine in southeastern Brazil.

The torrent ripped the roofs off houses and left villagers clinging to their roofs.

“There was a horrible noise and we saw the mud approaching. We ran for it. It is a miracle that we are still alive,” Valeria de Souza, 20, said, with a baby in her arms and tears in her eyes.

The mudslide flattened Bento Rodrigues, a village of about 600 people near the southeastern city of Mariana in the historic mining region of Minas Gerais.

De Souza spoke to reporters after arriving at a gymnasium in Mariana, where about 150 survivors from the destroyed village were being housed.

There were 17 people officially confirmed killed and 50 injured, “but more bodies have been found,” Mariana fire chief Adao Severino Junior said.

He warned that more than 40 people could be missing.

“There is no way to survive under that material,” he said of the mudslide.

Firefighters said they had rescued 500 people who were covered in iron and mineral deposits that were then washed off.

The local Mariana miners’ union said the sludge was toxic, but the company operating the mine, Samarco, said it was “inert” and contained no harmful chemicals.

Officials and experts said the mud threatened nearby wildlife.

“The environmental damage is enormous,” said Carlos Ferreira Pinto, one of the state prosecutors investigating the disaster.

Most of the village’s inhabitants work for Samarco, jointly owned by BHP Billiton of Australia and Vale of Brazil.

Samarco said the causes of the rupture were not known.

Experts at the University of Sao Paulo’s Seismology Center said four small earthquakes were recorded in the region on Thursday, although it was unlikely such small tremors would break a dam.

Shares in Vale and BHP Billiton on Friday plunged on the Sao Paulo and London stock exchanges.

Samarco president Ricardo Vescovi said the company was “mobilizing absolutely all necessary efforts” to help people struck by the disaster.

“We are also not sparing efforts to contain the environmental damage,” Vescovi said in a video message.

Minas Gerais has been Brazil’s main mining hub since the 16th century. First came gold, then mining of iron ore, other minerals and semi-precious stones.

Mariana and the nearby village of Ouro Preto sent firefighters and ambulances. Mariana residents donated mattresses, clothes, food and water for the stricken villagers.

Samarco emergency planning operations head Germano Silva Lopes told a news conference the company had detected a tremor, but no anomalies in the dams before they burst.

He said the first ruptured reservoir contained 55 million cubic meters of iron mineral deposits — less than its full capacity. All of it flooded out into the adjoining valley on Thursday afternoon.

A second dam holding back 7 million cubic meters of waste broke shortly afterwards.

Vescovi said the company’s emergency procedures were correctly carried out, but “we could improve them.”

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