Search ongoing for missing in Brazil mine disaster, death toll uncertain

Fri Nov 6, 2015 8:12pm EST
 
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By Stephen Eisenhammer

BENTO RODRIGUES, Brazil (Reuters) - Rescue teams searched through mud and debris on Friday for people still missing from a village devastated by the collapse of two dams at a Brazilian mine owned by the world's largest mining company, BHP Billiton.

While only one worker has been confirmed dead, the local governor said the mining disaster caused the most environmental damage of any in the state's history. It could cost the mine's owners a fortune to clean up and repair.

Walls of water filled with mining waste cascaded downhill when the dams burst on Thursday, engulfing the village of Bento Rodrigues and its 600 residents in a sea of mud while also flooding others far removed from the open-pit mine.

Little remains of the village but ruined walls and cars lying twisted in sludge. Search helicopters buzzed overhead as rescuers tried to save a horse trapped in the mud.

"I heard screaming and saw the water coming fast, about 15 to 20 meters high (49-66 feet)," said survivor Antonio Santos, a construction worker who was at home when the dams broke. Bento Rodrigues is about 93 miles (150 km) southeast of Belo Horizonte, Brazil's third-largest city and the capital of the mining state of Minas Gerais.

"Within 10 minutes the whole lower part of the village was destroyed, about 80 percent of it," he said in a gymnasium crowded with survivors in the nearby city of Mariana.

Santos said he knew of four people who were swept away, including two children and two adults in their 50s.

Mine operator Samarco's chief executive officer said a tremor in the vicinity of the mine may have caused the dams to burst, but that it was too early to establish the exact cause. The company said one worker died and 13 were missing.   Continued...

 
The Bento Rodrigues district is pictured covered with mud after a dam owned by Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd burst in Mariana, Brazil, November 6, 2015. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes