Two killed after dams burst at Brazil iron mine, many missing | Reuters

Stephen Eisenhammer, Reuters
Friday, November 6, 2015
Dam break at Mariana, Brazil
Dam break at Mariana, Brazil

(See the original Reuters story here.)

At least two people were killed and 30 others injured after two dams collapsed at a Brazilian iron ore mine, officials said on Friday, as rescuers searched for the missing under mud and debris from colossal floods that devastated a village.

Mine operator Samarco's chief executive officer said a tremor in the vicinity of the mine may have caused the dams to burst Thursday afternoon, but that it was too early to establish the exact cause. The company said one of the dead was a mine worker.

Firefighters who rescued 30 injured from the village of Bento Rodrigues put the toll at two dead and said the count was likely to rise as pouring rain slowed their search and mudslides knocked out roads and cell towers. The massive floods hit at least six villages.

"I heard screaming and saw the water coming fast, about 15 to 20 meters high (49-66 feet)," said survivor Antonio Santos, a construction worker who was at home when the dams broke. Bento Rodrigues is 150 km (93 miles) southeast of Belo Horizonte, Brazil's third largest city and the capital of the mining state of Minas Gerais.

"Within 10 minutes the whole lower part of the village was destroyed, about 80 percent of it," he said in a gymnasium crowded with survivors in the nearby city of Mariana.

Santos said he knew of four people who were swept away, including two children and two adults in their 50s.

Firefighters said they did not know if they would find all of those swept away by the wall of water released by the successive bursting of the two dams holding iron ore tailings and waste from the adjacent mine.

Television footage from the scene showed Bento Rodrigues, population 600, devastated by the fast-moving floods that tore off roofs, leveled trees and swept away cars. The floods extended as far as the town of Barra Longa, 80 kilometers (50 miles) away. The town was partially underwater.

Hundreds of families were evacuated from the area after escaping to higher ground, Duarte Junior, the mayor of Mariana, 25 km (16 miles) from the mine, told television channel GloboNews after declaring a state of emergency on Friday morning.

Samarco, a joint venture of BHP Billiton (BHP.AX)(BHP.N)(BLT.L) and Vale (VALE5.SA)(VALE.N) said it had no date to restart the 30,000-tonne-per-year mine and was evaluating whether to declare force majeure to allow it to break delivery contracts.

(Video courtesy of Associated Press.)