Brasilia: The death toll from the collapse of a mine tailings dam in Brazil’s Minas Gerais has increased to 110, authorities said.
Seven days after the catastrophe, the search operation is entering “a somewhat more difficult phase”, a state fire department spokesman told the media on Thursday.
“The bodies that were on the surface areas have already been found and recovered,” he said, adding that from this point on, the effort will rely on excavators and other heavy machinery, Efe news reported.
The death toll “will certainly rise” even as the pace of the work may slow, the spokesman said.
Authorities have identified 71 of the 110 bodies recovered so far.
The spokesman said that firefighters and others involved in the operation were repeatedly interrupted on Thursday due to unabated rains.
The mine in Brumadinho is owned by Brazil’s Vale, the world’s largest iron-ore producer, and most of the victims were employees of the company.
The dam rupture on January 25 came as many workers at the complex were having lunch in the cafeteria, which was buried within seconds.
A little more than three years before the disaster, a similar tailings dam collapse at a mine jointly owned by Vale and Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP in Mariana, killed 19 people and caused what was until then Brazil’s worst environmental catastrophe.
Vale has been hit with two fines: one from the Brazilian Environmental Institute for 250 million reais (Dh246 million or $67 million) and the other from the Minas Gerais state government for 99 million reais ($26 million).
Every one of the more than 400 tailings dams in Minas Gerais are at “some risk of rupture”, according to Julio Cesar Grilo, regional director of the Brazilian Environmental Institute.
The federal government has ordered inspections of all mining dams in the country.