Friday, November 6, 2015 2:29 am
An iron ore tailings dam in the southeast Brazilian state of Minas Gerais collapsed Thursday, killing at least 15 people, according to local media reports.
The Fundao dam, owned by Samarco, a joint venture between Vale and BHP Billiton, breached at around 4:20 p.m., local time, and released a torrential flow of water and mud into the town of Bento Rodrigues, where about 620 people live, seven kilometers away.
Media pictures showed the town was awash, buildings swamped with water and vehicles swept away.
While Brazil’s union of iron and base metal industry workers, Metabase, first gave the number of 15 people dead, news website G1 is stating around 45 people were also reported missing, including 30 who were working on the dam at the time.
Minas Gerais’ Civil Defence agency, however, could not confirm these numbers.
The nearest large town, Mariana, with a population of about 40,000, stands about 20 km away from the dam. The residents of Mariana have started a collection campaign to bring food, water and medical supplies to Bento Rodrigues.
Mariana’s Secretary of Social Defense, Braz Azevedo, stated that the situation is very serious and that was the risk of more mudslides. An investigation has been opened into the incident while the federal and state governments as well as the army have dispatched ambulances, rescue teams and aid to help with the rescue and relief efforts.
A press release from Samarco stated that it “could not currently confirm the cause or size of the incident.”
The Brazilian Dam Committee called “the bursting of the Samarco dam could be the worst ever registered in Brazil.” Prior to this, the deadliest dam disaster in the country took place in 1986 when the Mina de Fernadinho dam broke, killing seven people.
A tailings dam, such as that which broke, serves to hold waste earth and rock after ores have been separated while also recycling the water used in processing.