BRUMADINHO: Nearly 300 people were missing, many feared dead, on Saturday after a dam collapsed at a mine in southeastern Brazil, according to officials and the mine owner, corporate giant Vale.

Emergency services said they had recovered nine bodies from the massive muddy mess left by the disaster, which struck on Friday at the Vale mine in Brumadinho, near the city of Belo Horizonte in Minas Gerais state.

Dozens of helicopters were being used in the operation because the massive gush of mud released by the dam had engulged buildings, vehicles and roads with thick, treacherous sludge.

The state fire service leading the efforts said the latest count was 299 people missing, all of them mine workers listed by Vale.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro flew over the devastated zone, but said nothing to reporters in Belo Horizonte when he returned from the flight.

He instead took to Twitter to say it was “difficult to not be emotional before this scene.” All was being done to care for survivors and “determine the facts, to demand justice and prevent new tragedies,” he added.

The military said it was mobilising 1,000 troops, including sniffer dogs, to the affected zone under orders from Bolsonaro.

The disaster was the first big emergency faced by Bolsonaro and his government since he took office in early January, and perhaps one of the biggest disasters in Brazil’s history. The full scope of the damage was still unclear.

As workers gathered in an administrative area for lunch at the Vale mine on Friday, the area was suddenly engulfed by millions of tons of muddy trailings — a watery byproduct of the iron-ore mining operations — unleashed when the dam broke.

The reservoir, 42 years old and 86 metres high, had been in the process of being decommissioned, and Vale said it had recently passed structural safety tests.

After overflowing a second dam, the vast muddy mass barrelled down toward Brumaldinho, population 39,000, but only glanced along it before spearing its way through vegetation and farmland, smashing houses and swallowing tractors and roads in its way.

Vale’s CEO Fabio Schvartsman and Minas Gerais Governor Romeu Zema both expressed pessimism, warning the toll could rise.

“From now, the odds are minimal (to find more people alive) and it is most likely we will recover only bodies,” Zema told reporters.

In Rio, Schvartsman spoke of a “human tragedy.” “We’re talking about probably a large number of victims — we don’t know how many but we know it will be a high number,” he said.

Vale shares plummeted on the New York stock exchange on Friday, closing eight per cent lower.

The mining company, one of the world’s biggest, was also involved in a 2015 mine collapse elsewhere in Minas Gerais that claimed 19 lives and is regarded as the country’s worst-ever environmental disaster.

Minas Gerais officials obtained a court order blocking Vale’s bank account in the state to the tune of $270 million, money that would used for victim relief, according to the G1 news website.

Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2019

Opinion

Police & prosecution
16 Jan 2021

Police & prosecution

Yasin Malik’s case is a revealing example of Modi’s political vendetta.
Changes in privacy policy
16 Jan 2021

Changes in privacy policy

It is indeed a blunder by WhatsApp to move towards a model that is less private than before.
A national dialogue?
15 Jan 2021

A national dialogue?

Fundamental reforms are needed to change the ‘system of spoils’, not save it.

Editorial

16 Jan 2021

Gas liberalisation

AFTER drawing much criticism from both consumers and the opposition over its mismanagement of the energy sector that...
16 Jan 2021

Osama Satti inquiry

THE findings of the judicial inquiry into the Jan 2 killing of 21-year-old Osama Satti in Islamabad merely confirms...
Updated 16 Jan 2021

British MP on IHK

DESPITE sustained efforts by New Delhi’s rulers to remove India-held Kashmir from the global discourse, people of...
Updated 15 Jan 2021

Trump’s impeachment

The impeachment move may well remain symbolic in nature; even then, the symbolism itself is a potent one.
15 Jan 2021

Economic growth

MOODY’S Investors Service expects Pakistan’s economy to grow by a modest 1.5pc in FY2021, much higher than the...
15 Jan 2021

Madressah students

GETTING students of madressahs involved in politics is a bad idea, primarily because seminarians should be...