Dozens dead, hundreds still missing following Brazilian mine dam collapse

By Amanda Schmidt, AccuWeather staff writer
By Eric Leister, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
January 31, 2019, 6:59:42 AM EST

A mining dam collapsed in southeastern Brazil on Friday, Jan. 25, causing deadly flooding and environmental concerns.

Flooding affected several communities around Brumadinho where search efforts continued on Wednesday.

The flooding has resulted in at least 99 deaths and over 250 other people remain missing, according to the Associated Press.

Local firefighters were rescuing people by helicopter and ground vehicles on Friday and Saturday; however, no additional survivors have been found since Saturday.

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A structure lays in ruins after a dam collapsed near Brumadinho, Brazil, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. Brazilian mining company Vale SA said it didn’t yet have information on deaths or injuries at the dam but said that tailings have reached the community of Vila Ferteco. (Leo Drumond/Nitro via AP)

Officials suspended rescue and recovery operations on Sunday morning due to fears of another dam failing, according to the AP. They resumed the search after the several-hour suspension when the second dam was deemed safe.

The governor of Minas Gerais state, Romeu Zema, said that most recovery efforts would now entail pulling out bodies.

Largely dry weather is expected across the region the next several days, aiding the recovery efforts.

Local television channel TV Record showed a firefighter's helicopter hovering inches off the ground as it hoisted a woman covered in mud out of the sludge.

"I regret what happened in Brumadinho-MG. I determined the displacement of the Ministers of Regional Development and mines and energy, as well as our national secretary of Civil defense for the region," Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro said in a tweet.

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Bolsonaro said he lamented the incident and was sending the three cabinet ministers to the area.

"Our greatest concern at this time is to meet any victims of this serious tragedy," Bolsonaro said.

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An aerial view shows flooding triggered by a collapsed dam near Brumadinho, Brazil, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. (Bruno Correia/Nitro via AP)

Vale mining company, which owns the mine, has come under scrutiny after local residents claimed no sirens were sounded during the flooding incident.

Vale told the Associated Press that the area has eight sirens, but “the speed in which the event happened made sounding an alarm impossible” when the dam burst.

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Firefighters look for victims of a dam collapse in Brumadinho, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

The flood waters, which created mud up to 8 meters (24 feet) deep, contain unknown amounts of mining waste, raising fears of widespread environmental contamination and degradation.

According to Vale’s website, the waste is composed mostly of sand and is non-toxic.

Concerns remain high due to a report from the United Nations that the waste from a similar disaster in 2015 “contained high levels of toxic heavy metals.”

The event in 2015 also followed a dam collapse in Mariana, Minas Gerais. The dam was administered by Vale and Australian mining company BHP Billiton.

The collapse resulted in 19 deaths, dislocated hundreds from their homes and contaminated a nearby river. It is largely considered Brazil’s largest-ever environmental catastrophe.

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A dead fish floats in the Paraopeba River, full of mud that was released by the collapse of a mining company dam near a community of the Pataxo Ha-ha-hae indigenous people in Brumadinho, Brazil, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Concerns grew on Wednesday that pollutants in the Parapoeba River may reach the much larger Sao Francisco River.

Water from the Sao Francisco River provides drinking water to people in five different states of Brazil.

The Retiro Baixo hydroelectric dam is the last line of defense to stop the polluted water from reaching the Sao Francisco River.

"The wave of muddy water and waste is expected to reach the dam between Feb. 5 and Feb. 10," Brazil’s National Water Agency has said.

Officials are hopeful that the pollutants can be contained at the hydroelectric dam and further problems downstream can be avoided.

Farther upstream, the polluted river has already been blamed for the death of fish and other wildlife in the area.

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