Bento Rodrigues town in Brazil forever poisoned by BHP
Published on 7th November 2015
Firefighters have rescued about 500 survivors from a torrent of mining waste that killed at least 17 people and destroyed a village after two dams burst in southeastern Brazil.
They searched frantically for survivors after the mudslide erupted from waste reservoirs at the partly Australian-owned iron ore mine.
The torrent ripped the roofs off some houses and left villagers clinging to their roofs.
A dam holding back waste water from an iron ore mine in Brazil that is owned by Vale and BHP Billiton burst on Thursday, devastating a nearby town with mudslides and leaving officials in the remote region scrambling to assess casualties.
"There was a horrible noise and we saw the mud approaching. We ran for it. It is a miracle that we are still alive," said Valeria de Souza, 20, with a baby in her arms and tears in her eyes.
The mudslide flattened Bento Rodrigues, a village of about 600 people near the southeastern city of Mariana in the historic mining region of Minas Gerais.
BHP Billiton said it had yet to fully assess the extent of damage and casualties from a massive mudslide at Brazil's Samarco iron ore mine on Thursday night.
"Most of what happened there has been under the cloak of darkness," BHP Billiton Chief Executive Andrew Mackenzie told reporters in Melbourne. "At daybreak, clearly we will do an awful lot more and give you further updates."
Ms De Souza spoke to the media after arriving at a gymnasium in Mariana, where 150 survivors from the destroyed village were being housed.
There were 17 people officially confirmed killed and 50 injured, "but more bodies have been found," said Adao Severino Junior, the fire chief in Mariana.
He warned that more than 40 people could be missing.
"There is no way to survive under that material," he said of the mudslide.
Fifteen-year-old Marcos Junior de Souza told the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper he fled across the rooftops to escape the torrent.
"All my life I had heard people saying the dam was going to break," he was quoted as saying.
"I never thought much of it until the water flooded my house."
Civil defense authorities in Mariana said they were evacuating about 600 people to higher ground from the village of Bento Rodrigues, where television footage showed dozens of homes destroyed by the mudslide. A car rested on top of a wall where the roof of a building had been ripped off.
The mining company Samarco, a joint venture between top iron ore miners Brazil's Vale and Australia's BHP, also said in a statement it had not yet determined why the dam burst or the extent of the disaster at its Germano mine near the town of Mariana in Minas Gerais, south eastern Brazil.
They said the flood had also reached another village further down the hill, called Paracatú de Baixo, and that inhabitants there were being evacuated.
Destruction to the Environment is 'enormous'
Firefighters said they had rescued 500 people who were covered in iron and mineral deposits that were then washed off.
The local Mariana miners' union said the sludge was toxic, but the company operating the mine, Samarco, said it was "inert" and contained no harmful chemicals.
Officials and experts said the mud threatened nearby wildlife.
"The environmental damage is enormous," said one of the state prosecutors investigating the disaster, Carlos Ferreira Pinto.
Most of the village's inhabitants work for Samarco, jointly owned by BHP Billiton of Australia and Vale of Brazil.
Samarco said the causes of the rupture were not known.
Experts at Sao Paulo University's Seismology Centre said four small earthquakes were recorded in the region on Thursday, though it was unlikely such small tremors would break a dam.
Shares in Vale and BHP Billiton plunged on Friday on the Sao Paulo and London stock exchanges.
The dam was holding tailings, a mining waste product of metal filings, water and occasionally chemicals. It was located near the Gualaxo do Norte river, adding to fears of potential water contamination.
The G1 news service of the Globo Media group reported that between 15 and 16 people died and 45 others were missing, citing the local union.
Civil defense authorities could not confirm casualties and said numbers reported in Brazilian media were speculative. A city hall official confirmed one death and 16 injuries, adding that dozens more were missing.
Rescue crews continued to search the muddy waters after nightfall.
Brazilian army units nearby stood ready to help the search and rescue effort and the minister of national integration, Gilberto Occhi, planned to visit the state on Friday to provide assistance, according to a note from the presidency.
The stock Price on BHP shares dipped only slightly by .58 cents to $22 after news of the disaster got out.
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