Brazil's Search for Survivors Resumes After New Fears Ease
(Bloomberg) -- Brazilian rescue teams have resumed their hunt for more than 300 people still missing from the collapse of a dam owned by iron ore giant Vale SA, after the search was temporarily halted amid concern that rising waters would cause another accident.
Brumadinho city center and other nearby neighborhoods were evacuated early Sunday after alarms were raised due to rising waters in another dam at the Corrego do Feijao iron ore mining complex in the region. The death toll from Friday’s accident stood at 58 on Sunday, Civil Defense spokesman Flavio Godinho said.
The incident on Friday at the Feijao mine is the second deadly dam accident in just more than three years involving the world’s biggest iron ore producer. The risk of another accident adds pressure on the Brazilian miner, with the company now facing questions on its ability to prevent similar disasters.
Vale chief executive Fabio Schvartsman said the company is offering assistance to authorities and victims. “The solution is to review all normal international or national (security) standards to make sure this never happens again,” Schvartsman said in a televised press briefing on Sunday.
The disaster also tests Brazil president Jair Bolsonaro’s leadership skills less than a month after his inauguration and may upend his plans to ease environmental restrictions and boost mining production through reforms in Congress.
Bolsonaro flew over the site on Saturday and promised to support the victims and investigate the accident. The president returned to Sao Paulo on Sunday morning, where he is expected to undergo intestinal surgery on Monday.
“How can they let this happen again?” Brumadinho Mayor Avimar de Melo said of Vale in a televised press conference, accusing the miner of incompetence. “They have wiped out our city.” He said Brumadinho will demand at least 100 million reais ($26 million) in compensation for the damage and loss of future revenue of 5 million reais a month.
Some 11 billion reais of Vale’s funds, or almost $3 billion, have been frozen by Minas Gerais state judges to ensure the company has enough money to cover human and ecological costs stemming from the disaster, according to Globo News. In a statement, Vale said it isn’t necessary for authorities to block the funds to compel the company to provide emergency services and restoration from the accident.
Brazil’s worst-ever environmental catastrophe happened in November 2015 -- the Samarco tailings dam spill that killed 19 people near Mariana municipality. Samarco is co-owned by Vale.
On Friday, a similar accident at Brumadinho unleashed sludge into a rural valley in Minas Gerais state, sweeping up people, cars and burying homes and roads under one million cubic meters of waste. The environmental impact is expected to be considerably smaller than the 2015 dam burst, but the human disaster is bigger, Vale has said.
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