Hope fades for 300 missing in Brazil dam disaster

BRUMADINHO, Brazil (AFP) – Hopes were fading yesterday that rescuers would find more survivors from at least 300 missing after a dam collapse at a mine in southeast Brazil, with nine bodies so far recovered.

Seven bodies were recovered on Friday hours after the disaster, after a torrent of mud broke through the dam at the iron-ore mine close to the city of Belo Horizonte, in the state of Minas Gerias, around 1pm.

By yesterday the official death toll had risen to nine, local firefighters said, who also doubled the number of people presumed missing from the previous toll to nearly 300 people.

Romeu Zema, the governor of Minas Gerais, told reporters that while all was being done to find survivors, “from now, the odds are minimal and it is most likely we will recover only bodies”.

Brazil’s new President Jair Bolsonaro, who rushed home from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, is scheduled to fly over the disaster zone yesterday along with his defence minister.

Aerial view taken after the collapse of a dam which belonged to Brazil’s giant mining company Vale, near the town of Brumadinho in southeastern Brazil. – AFP

The mine is owned by Brazilian mining giant Vale. It was involved in a 2015 mine collapse in the same state that claimed 19 lives and is regarded as the country’s worst-ever environmental disaster.

Vale shares plummeted on the new accident, losing eight per cent in New York trading.

Minas Gerais officials obtained a court order blocking Vale’s bank account in the state to the tune of USD270 million, money that would used for victim relief, according to the G1 news website.

The massive, muddy flow from the collapse barrelled towards the nearby town of Brumadinho, population 39,000, but did not hit it directly.

Instead, it carved its way across roads, vegetation and farmland, taking down a bridge, and damaging or destroying homes.

Television images showed people being pulled out of waist-high mud into rescue helicopters, dozens of which were in use by late Friday because land access had been cut off.

Brazil’s new government reacted to its first major emergency by launching disaster coordination between the defence, mining and environment ministries and the authorities in the affected state of Minas Gerais.