Aerial view taken after the collapse of a dam which belonged to Brazil's giant mining company Vale, near the town of Brumadinho in southeastern Brazil, on January 25, 2019 Image Credit: AFP

BRUMADINHO, Brazil: (January 27, 2018; 10.17am UAE time) Brazilian rescue workers halted searches for the night on Saturday for hundreds of people missing and feared dead under a sea of mud after a tailings dam burst at an iron ore mine owned by Vale SA, killing at least 34 people.

The dam ruptured on Friday, releasing a torrent of mining waste that slammed into Vale’s facilities and cut through a nearby community, leaving a roughly 150-meter-wide (500-foot-wide) wake of destruction stretching for miles (km).

The Minas Gerais state fire department, which gave the latest confirmed death toll, also said 23 people had been sent to hospitals.

Dozens of helicopters were being used in the rescue operation because the released mud engulfed buildings, vehicles and roads with a deep, treacherous layer.

"We still have hopes of finding people alive," the head of the state's fire service, Colonel Edgard Estavao, told reporters.

Missing

Some 250 people remained missing, according to a list released by Vale. All of those missing are Vale employees or contractors, a police spokesman said.

The search is set to resume on Sunday morning.

Firefighters focussed their hopes for finding survivors on a trapped bus and train, along with mining facilities and nearby homes that were buried in mud after the dam break at Vale’s Corrego do Feijao mine near the town of Brumadinho.

Pictures show helicopters plucking people covered in mud from the disaster area. Image Credit: Reuters

Update (January 26, 2018; 8.41pm UAE time) Brazil's Vale hit with first fine of $66.5 million over dam disaster at mine.

The amount, confirmed by multiple sources including a government official, was levied by the environment ministry, which did not immediately give an official figure.


Update (January 26, 2018; 7.59pm UAE time) Nearly 300 people were missing, many feared dead, on Saturday after a dam collapsed at a mine in southeastern Brazil, according to officials and the mine owner, corporate giant Vale.

Emergency services said they had recovered nine bodies from the massive muddy mess left by the disaster, which struck Friday at the Vale mine in Brumadinho, near the city of Belo Horizonte in Minas Gerais state.

Dozens of helicopters were being used in the operation because the massive gush of mud released by the dam had engulged buildings, vehicles and roads with thick, treacherous sludge.

The state fire service leading the efforts said the latest count was 299 people missing, all of them mine workers listed by Vale.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro flew over the devastated zone, but said nothing to reporters in Belo Horizonte when he returned from the flight.

He instead took to Twitter to say it was "difficult to not be emotional before this scene." All was being done to care for survivors and "determine the facts, to demand justice and prevent new tragedies," he added.

The military said it was mobilising 1,000 troops, including sniffer dogs, to the affected zone under orders from Bolsonaro.

The disaster was the first big emergency faced by Bolsonaro and his government since he took office in early January, and perhaps one of the biggest disasters in Brazil's history.

The full scope of the damage was still unclear.

Vale shares plunge 

As workers gathered in an administrative area for lunch at the Vale mine Friday, the area was suddenly engulfed by millions of tons of muddy trailings - a watery byproduct of the iron-ore mining operations - unleashed when the dam broke.

The reservoir, 42 years old and 86 meters (282 feet) high, had been in the process of being decommissioned, and Vale said it had recently passed structural safety tests.

From now, the odds are minimal (to find more people alive) and it is most likely we will recover only bodies.

- Governor Romeu Zema, Minas Gerais

After overflowing a second dam, the vast muddy mass barrelled down toward Brumaldinho, population 39,000, but only glanced along it before spearing its way through vegetation and farmland, smashing houses and swallowing tractors and roads in its way.

Vale's CEO Fabio Schvartsman and Minas Gerais Governor Romeu Zema both expressed pessimism, warning the toll could rise.

"From now, the odds are minimal (to find more people alive) and it is most likely we will recover only bodies," Zema told reporters late Friday.

In Rio, Schvartsman spoke of a "human tragedy."

"We're talking about probably a large number of victims - we don't know how many but we know it will be a high number," he said.

Vale shares plummeted on the New York stock exchange Friday, closing eight percent lower.

The mining company, one of the world's biggest, was also involved in a 2015 mine collapse elsewhere in Minas Gerais that claimed 19 lives and is regarded as the country's worst-ever environmental disaster.

Minas Gerais officials obtained a court order blocking Vale's bank account in the state to the tune of $270 million, money that would used for victim relief, according to the G1 news website.

'Where are our relatives?' 

"Where are our relatives?" wailed Raquel Cristina, one of several people demanding information about their missing kin in the mud-hit area.

"My five-year-old nephew is asking me if his dad died. What do I tell him?" asked another, Olivia Rios.

Some of the firefighters used earth-moving machinery to dig down to engulfed dwellings.

My five-year-old nephew is asking me if his dad died. What do I tell him?

- Olivia Rios

Would-be rescue volunteers were urged to stay away because of the slippery, perilous mud. Media were pressed not to use drones to avoid collisions with search and rescue helicopters.

Walter Morais, a member of the Red Cross team sent to the disaster zone, told AFP that his relief group "will begin humanitarian actions helping people who were rescued and are homeless."


Update (January 26, 2018; 7.02pm UAE time) A German company that only months ago inspected a dam that collapsed in Brazil said on Saturday that it found nothing wrong with the structure during the checks.

The statement came as hopes were fading that rescuers would find more survivors from at least 300 missing after the dam collapsed at a mine in southeast Brazil, with nine bodies so far recovered.

Tuev Sued, a Munich-based company specialising in certifications across the world, said it ran the inspection at the request of Vale, the Brazilian mining giant that owns the mine.

"In September 2018 Tuev Sued, commissioned by Vale, carried out an inspection of the dam which, as far as we know at the moment, found no defects," a spokesman told AFP.

Tuev Sued was not in a position to give more information while the investigation into the disaster was ongoing, he said, adding however that the company was fully cooperating with the investigation, including by providing "all documentation needed".


Update (January 26, 2018; 5.09pm UAE time): Hopes were fading Saturday that rescuers would find more survivors from at least 300 missing after a dam collapse at a mine in southeast Brazil, with nine bodies so far recovered.

Seven bodies were recovered Friday hours after the disaster, after a torrent of mud broke through the dam at the iron-ore mine close to the city of Belo Horizonte, in the state of Minas Gerias, around 1:00 pm.

By early Saturday the official death toll had risen to nine, local firefighters said, who also doubled the number of people presumed missing from the previous toll to nearly 300 people.

Romeu Zema, the governor of Minas Gerais, told reporters that while all was being done to find survivors, "from now, the odds are minimal and it is most likely we will recover only bodies".

Brazil's new president Jair Bolsonaro, who rushed home from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, is scheduled to fly over the disaster zone Saturday along with his defense minister.

The mine is owned by Brazilian mining giant Vale. It was involved in a 2015 mine collapse in the same state that claimed 19 lives and is regarded as the country's worst-ever environmental disaster.

Vale shares plummeted on the new accident, losing eight percent in New York trading.

Minas Gerais officials obtained a court order blocking Vale's bank account in the state to the tune of $270 million, money that would used for victim relief, according to the G1 news website.

'Where are our relatives?' 

The massive, muddy flow from the collapse barreled towards the nearby town of Brumadinho, population 39,000, but did not hit it directly.

Instead, it carved its way across roads, vegetation and farmland, taking down a bridge, and damaging or destroying homes.

Television images showed people being pulled out of waist-high mud into rescue helicopters, dozens of which were in use by late Friday because land access had been cut off.

Brazil's new government reacted to its first major emergency by launching disaster coordination between the defense, mining and environment ministries and the authorities in the affected state of Minas Gerais.

Bolsonaro's environment minister raced to the area late Friday.

"Where are our relatives?" wailed Raquel Cristina, one of several people demanding information about their missing kin in the mud-hit area.

"My five-year-old nephew is asking me if his dad died. What do I tell him?" asked another, Olivia Rios.

Some of the firefighters used earth-moving machinery to dig down to engulfed dwellings.

Would-be rescue volunteers were warned away because of the slippery, perilous piles of mud. Media were urged not to use drones to avoid collisions with the helicopters.

Up to 150 of those missing worked in the company's administrative offices which were closest to the dam break, the firefighters said.

Walter Morais, a member of the Red Cross team sent to the disaster zone, told AFP that his relief group "will begin humanitarian actions helping people who were rescued and are homeless".

 'Human tragedy' 

Scores of people were trapped in areas by the river of sludge released by the dam failure, according to the fire brigade at the Belo Horizonte city Image Credit: AFP

Vale CEO Fabio Schvartsman called the incident a "human tragedy" and was resigned to more deaths being confirmed at his company's mine.

"We're talking about probably a large number of victims - we don't know how many but we know it will be a high number," he told a media conference in Rio de Janeiro.

Schvartsman, who had his two-year term renewed last month by Vale's board, said it was an "inactive dam" that was in the process of being decommissioned that burst apart "very violently, very suddenly".

Its contents - tailings, or mining byproducts mixed with water - cascaded into another dam, which overflowed, he said.

The disaster recalled trauma from the 2015 dam break near Mariana, in Minas Gerais. That accident released millions of tons of toxic iron waste along hundreds of kilometers (miles). Vale was joint operator of that dam, along with the Anglo-Australian group BHP.

The Brazil office of Greenpeace, the environmental activist group, said Friday's dam break was "a sad consequence of the lessons not learned by the Brazilian government and the mining companies".

Such incidents "are not accidents but environmental crimes that must be investigated, punished and repaired", it added.


A Brazil fire brigade said it was searching for about 200 people unaccounted for after a tailings dam burst on Friday at an iron ore mine owned by Brazilian miner Vale SA in southwestern Minas Gerais state.

Two-thirds of the roughly 300 workers at a Brazilian iron ore mine went missing on Friday the burst dam sent a torrent of sludge through its cafeteria at lunchtime, the chief executive of the mine's owner, Vale SA , told journalists.

A statement from the fire brigade issued in Belo Horizonte city said scores of people were trapped in areas by the river of sludge released by the dam failure.

The death toll in the dam disaster rose to nine early on Saturday.

The mud hit parts of the local community Vila Forteco, near the town of Brumadinho, where families were told to evacuate their home sin low-lying areas, authorities said.

Helicopters plucked people covered in mud from the disaster area, including a woman with a fractured hip who was among eight injured people taken to hospital, officials said. Image Credit: AFP

Television reports showed people running away as the dam broke, and nearby fields with bean crops destroyed by packed mud.

Dam collapse

The region is still recovering from collapse of a larger dam in 2015 that killed 19 people.

In that incident, a dam owned jointly by the Samarco Mineracao SA venture between Vale and BHP Billiton broke in the same region of Minas Gerais state, burying local homes in Brazil's worst environmental disaster.

Brazil's environmental protection agency Ibama said the dam that burst on Friday held 1 million cubic meters of tailings, much less than the 50 million cubic meters in the 2015 disaster. Image Credit: Google Earth

Brazil's environmental protection agency Ibama said the dam that burst on Friday held 1 million cubic meters of tailings, much less than the 50 million cubic meters in the 2015 disaster.

Operations at Samarco remain halted over legal disputes relating to damages the rupture caused even after the companies settled a $5.28 billion civil lawsuit last year.

US-listed shares of Vale were down 7 percent in Friday afternoon trading.

Photos on G1 and other local news websites, some credited to the fire department, showed a vast area covered in sludge with people walking in ankle deep mud. Images showed firemen rescuing at least three people from the mud.

Homes evacuated

A representative of the civil defense agency in the nearby town of Brumadinho located about six miles (10 km) from the dam said they were evacuating homes in the lower district by the river, but the mud had not arrived there.

The Inhotim Institute, an outdoor contemporary art museum in a park three miles from Brumadinho, evacuated visitors and closed its doors out of safety precautions.

Brazil's new right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro dispatched three ministers to the disaster area to see the damage and will visit himself on Saturday, his chief spokesman said.

Former environmental minister and presidential candidate Marina Silva said Brazilian authorities and private miners had not learned anything from the 2015 disaster and called it unacceptable.

"Three years after the serious environmental crime in Mariana, with investigations still ongoing and no-one punished, history repeats itself as tragedy in Brumadinho," she said in a Twitter post.