Brazil environmental disaster: 9 killed, 300 missing after dam near iron mine bursts

The accident happened at the Feijao mine in the southeastern state of Minas Gerias; it is the second such incident in the same state in 3 years

By DTE Staff
Published: Saturday 26 January 2019

Nine people are confirmed dead and at least 300 missing after a disused dam burst at an iron ore mine close to the city of Belo Horizonte, in the state of Minas Gerias, southeastern Brazil, around 1:00 pm local time on January 25.

The nine bodies have been recovered by local firefighters on January 26.

The mine, called Feijao, is owned by Vale, a Brazilian mining giant. According to most media reports, the dam near the mine burst its barrier and flooded another dam below it. The avalanche of mud and mining by-products mixed with water flooded into the offices of the company, which were located closest to the mine. Workers at the time were having lunch. At least 150 of the 300 missing are workers.

Built in 1976, the dam was used to hold residue from the mine. Vale CEO Fabio Schvartsman was quoted as saying the dam had a capacity of 12 million cubic metres and was being decommissioned. He said equipment had shown the dam was stable on January 10 and it was too soon to say why it collapsed.

However, an article in the local Portuguese newspaper, Folha de S.Paulo noted that government officials who had met last month to consider the renewal of the mine’s license had been made a mention about the possibility of the dam collapsing.

In November 2015, another mine had collapsed near Mariana, again in Minas Gerias, killing 19 people, in what is now widely considered to be Brazil’s worst environmental disaster. This mine was jointly-operated by Vale and the Anglo-Australian group, BHP. The accident had released millions of tonnes of toxic iron waste along hundreds of kilometers of the surrounding area. Ultimately, BHP and Vale reached a settlement worth US $1.8 billion with the Brazilian government.

On January 26, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro flew over the disaster area in a helicopter.

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