Latest: Scores feared dead after Brazilian dam bursts

Update 11.15pm: At least 200 people are missing after the collapse of a dam which was holding back mining waste in south-eastern Brazil.

The death toll has risen to 34 after the disaster inundated a mining complex in the state of Minas Gerais.

State governor Romeu Zema warned that anyone found to be responsible for the disaster “would be punished”.

According to reports, the complex, owned and operated by Brazilian company Vale, was issued an expedited licence to expand in December due to “decreased risk”.

Environmental groups in the area say this approval was unlawful.

A total of 23 people were taken to hospital after the collapse, according to the Minas Gerais fire department.

There had been some signs of hope earlier on Saturday when authorities found 43 people alive. Company officials also had said that 100 workers were accounted for.

The mud covers the backyard of a house (AP)
The mud covers the backyard of a house (AP)

Vale workers were eating lunch on Friday afternoon when the dam collapsed, unleashing a sea of reddish-brown mud that knocked over and buried several of the company’s buildings as well as the surrounding areas.

The level of devastation quickly led President Jair Bolsonaro and other officials to describe it as a “tragedy”.

The rivers of mining waste have also raised fears of widespread contamination.

According to Vale’s website, the waste, often called tailings, is composed mostly of sand and is non-toxic. However, a UN report found that the waste from a similar disaster in 2015 “contained high levels of toxic heavy metals”.

This house was completely destroyed by the flow of mining waste (AP)
This house was completely destroyed by the flow of mining waste (AP)

Vale CEO Fabio Schvartsman said he did not know what had caused the collapse. He confirmed about 300 employees were working on the site when it happened.

After the dam collapsed, parts of the town of Brumadinho were evacuated, and firefighters rescued people by helicopter and ground vehicles. Several helicopters flew over the area on Saturday while firefighters carefully traversed heavily inundated areas looking for survivors.

The flow of waste reached the nearby community of Vila Ferteco and a Vale administrative office, where employees were present.

On Friday, Minas Gerais state court blocked $260 million from Vale for state emergency services and is requiring the company to present a report about how they will help victims. On Saturday, the state’s justice ministry ordered an additional $1.3 billion blocked.

A van is seen in half buried in the mud (AP)
A van is seen in half buried in the mud (AP)

Another dam administered by Vale and Australian mining company BHP Billiton collapsed in 2015 in the city of Mariana, also in Minas Gerais state, resulting in 19 deaths and forcing hundreds of people from their homes.

Considered the worst environmental disaster in Brazilian history, it left 250,000 people without drinking water and killed thousands of fish. An estimated 60 million cubic metres of waste flooded rivers and eventually flowed into the Atlantic Ocean.

Mr Schvartsman said what happened on Friday was “a human tragedy much larger than the tragedy of Mariana, but probably the environmental damage will be less”.

Rescue efforts are continuing at the scene with dozens of people still missing (AP)
Rescue efforts are continuing at the scene with dozens of people still missing (AP)

Mr Bolsonaro, who assumed office on January 1, took part in a flyover of the area on Saturday.

On Twitter, he said his government would do everything it could to “prevent more tragedies” like Mariana and now Brumadinho.

The far-right leader campaigned on promises to jump-start Brazil’s economy, in part by deregulating mining and other industries.

Environmental groups and activists said the latest spill underlined a lack of regulation, and many promised to fight any further deregulation by Mr Bolsonaro in Latin America’s largest nation.- Press Association

Latest: Scores feared dead after Brazilian dam bursts

Nine dead and up to 300 people missing after Brazilian dam bursts

Update 3pm: Rescuers are searching for survivors in a huge area of south-eastern Brazil buried by mud after the collapse of a dam holding back mining waste.

At least nine people are dead and up to 300 more are missing after the disaster in Minas Gerais state.

State governor Romeu Zema said: “Most likely, from now on we are mostly going to be recovering bodies.”

Workers with Brazilian mining company Vale were eating lunch on Friday afternoon when the dam collapsed, unleashing a sea of reddish-brown mud that knocked over and buried several structures belonging to the company.

The level of devastation in the city of Brumadinho and surrounding areas quickly led President Jair Bolsonaro to describe it as a “tragedy”.

Vale CEO Fabio Schvartsman said he did not know what caused the collapse, and confirmed that about 300 employees were working in the area when it happened. About 100 have been accounted for, and rescue efforts are under way to determine what had happened to the others.

Mr Schvartsman told a news conference that “the principal victims were our own workers”, adding that the restaurant where many of his staff ate “was buried by the mud at lunchtime”.

A collapsed bridge near Brumadinho, Brazil (Bruno Correia/Nitro via AP)
A collapsed bridge near Brumadinho, Brazil (Bruno Correia/Nitro via AP)

After the dam collapsed in the afternoon, parts of Brumadinho were evacuated, and firefighters rescued people by helicopter and ground vehicles.

Local television channel TV Record showed a helicopter hovering inches off the ground as it pulled people covered in mud out of the waste.

Photos showed rooftops poking above an extensive field of the mud, which also cut off roads. The flow of waste reached the nearby community of Vila Ferteco and a Vale administrative office, where employees were present.

Another dam administered by Vale and Australian mining company BHP Billiton collapsed in 2015 in the city of Mariana in Minas Gerais state, resulting in 19 deaths and forcing hundreds of people from their homes.

A cut-off road near Brumadinho (Leo Drumond/Nitro via AP)
A cut-off road near Brumadinho (Leo Drumond/Nitro via AP)

Considered the worst environmental disaster in Brazilian history, it left 250,000 people without drinking water and killed thousands of fish.

An estimated 60 million cubic metres of waste flooded rivers and eventually flowed into the Atlantic Ocean.

Mr Schvartsman said what happened on Friday was “a human tragedy much larger than the tragedy of Mariana, but probably the environmental damage will be less”.

Mr Bolsonaro, who assumed office on January 1, said he has sent three cabinet ministers to the area.

Flooding triggered by the dam collapse (Bruno Correia/Nitro via AP)
Flooding triggered by the dam collapse (Bruno Correia/Nitro via AP)

“We will take all the possible steps to minimise the suffering of families and victims,” Mr Bolsonaro said in a speech, which he posted on Twitter.

The president plans to tour the area later. The far-right leader campaigned on promises to jump-start Brazil’s economy, in part by deregulating mining and other industries.

Environmental groups and activists said the latest spill underlined a lack of regulation.

The rivers of mining waste raised fears of widespread contamination.

According to Vale’s website, the mine waste, often called tailings, is composed mostly of sand and is non-toxic. However, a UN report found that the waste from the 2015 disaster “contained high levels of toxic heavy metals”.

- Press Association

Nine dead and hundreds missing after Brazil dam bursts

Latest: Scores feared dead after Brazilian dam bursts

At least nine people have died and around 200 remain missing after a mining dam collapsed in Brazil.

President Jair Bolsonaro described the collapse in the city of Brumadinho as a “tragedy”.

Seven bodies had been recovered by late on Friday, according to the governor’s office of Minas Gerais state. But it was feared the death toll would grow as rescue and recovery teams dug through feet of mud.

Fabio Schvartsman, CEO of mining company Vale, said he did not know what caused the collapse. About 300 employees were working when it happened. About 100 had been accounted for, and rescue efforts were under way to determine what had happened to the others.

“The principal victims were our own workers,” Mr Schvartsman told a news conference, adding that the restaurant where many ate “was buried by the mud at lunchtime”.

After the dam collapsed in the afternoon, parts of Brumadinho were evacuated, and firefighters rescued people by helicopter and ground vehicles. Local television channel TV Record showed a helicopter hovering inches off the ground as it pulled people covered in mud out of the waste.

Photos showed rooftops poking above an extensive field of the mud, which also cut off roads. The flow of waste reached the nearby community of Vila Ferteco and a Vale administrative office, where employees were present.

A collapsed bridge near Brumadinho, Brazil (Bruno Correia/Nitro via AP)
A collapsed bridge near Brumadinho, Brazil (Bruno Correia/Nitro via AP)

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Josiele Rosa Silva Tomas, president of Brumadinho residents association. “It was horrible… the amount of mud that took over.”

Ms Silva Tomas said she was awaiting news of her cousin, and many she knew were trying to get news of loved ones.

Another dam administered by Vale and Australian mining company BHP Billiton collapsed in 2015 in the city of Mariana in Minas Gerais state, resulting in 19 deaths and forcing hundreds from their homes.

Considered the worst environmental disaster in Brazilian history, it left 250,000 people without drinking water and killed thousands of fish. An estimated 60 million cubic meters of waste flooded rivers and eventually flowed into the Atlantic Ocean.

A cut-off road near Brumadinho (Leo Drumond/Nitro via AP)
A cut-off road near Brumadinho (Leo Drumond/Nitro via AP)

Mr Schvartsman said what happened on Friday was “a human tragedy much larger than the tragedy of Mariana, but probably the environmental damage will be less”.

The state fire department said about 200 people were missing. The Minas Gerais governor’s office said 150 were missing.

Mr Bolsonaro, who assumed office on January 1, said he lamented the accident and sent three cabinet ministers to the area.

“We will take all the possible steps to minimise the suffering of families and victims,” Mr Bolsonaro said.

Mr Bolsonaro planned to tour the area by helicopter on Saturday. The far-right leader campaigned on promises to jump-start Brazil’s economy, in part by deregulating mining and other industries.

Environmental groups and activists said the latest spill underscored a lack of regulation.

Flooding triggered by the dam collapse (Bruno Correia/Nitro via AP)
Flooding triggered by the dam collapse (Bruno Correia/Nitro via AP)

The latest spill “is a sad consequence of the lessons not learned by the Brazilian government and the mining companies responsible for the tragedy with Samarco dam, in Mariana, also controlled by Vale,” Greenpeace said in a statement.

“History repeats itself,” tweeted Marina Silva, a former environmental minister and three-time presidential candidate. “It’s unacceptable that government and mining companies haven’t learned anything.”

The rivers of mining waste raised fears of widespread contamination.

According to Vale’s website, the mine waste, often called tailings, is composed mostly of sand and is non-toxic. However, a UN report found that the waste from the 2015 disaster “contained high levels of toxic heavy metals.”

Vale is Brazil’s largest mining company. Two hours after the accident, its stock fell 10% on the New York Stock Exchange.

Just before midnight Saturday, firefighters put out a list of 187 people who had been rescued throughout the afternoon.

Of the 427 workers who were on hand when the dam collapsed, 279 had been accounted for, Vale said in a statement.

More than 100 firefighters were on the scene and another 200 were expected to arrive Saturday.- Press Association

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