November 10, 2015 / 1:56 PM / in 2 years

Hotel Providence: new home for dispossessed in Brazil mining flood

MARIANA, Brazil (Reuters) - For those that lost everything in the deadly flood caused by two breached dams at a mine in Brazil, this former convent boarding school in the old center of Mariana is now home.

A chicken walks on debris in Bento Rodrigues district after a dam, owned by Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd burst, in Mariana, Brazil, November 9, 2015. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

The 19th century blue and white hotel with a statue of the Virgin Mary above the door, bustles with activity as children chase each other down the long corridors seemingly unaware of the psychologists attending to the grief stricken.

In the chapel two 4-year-old girls play in piles of donated clothes, wrinkling tops almost as fast as a smilingly patient volunteer can fold them.

Grinning as they trot about in non-matching high heels at least five sizes too big, they both say their names are Ana Beatriz.

“We were from Bento, but now we’re from Mariana,” they say in synchrony. “Our village was washed away.”

Hotel Providence has taken in 130 of the 600 displaced from the village of Bento Rodrigues, destroyed by a wall of water and mud released when the dams burst. At least two people died and 25 are still missing five days after the disaster.

Lodging and assistance are being paid for by Samarco, the company that ran the mine and which is owned by two of the world’s largest mining firms Vale SA VALE5.SA and BHP Billiton BLT.L.

“It’s completely changed the routine of the hotel, but it’s important to help,” said manager Antonio Deniz, noting it would be difficult to house the villagers longer than a few more days.

The uncertainty is frustrating for people who want to rebuild their lives.

On the cobblestone street outside, men from the village lean against the wall, smoking cigarettes and chatting about what happened and what will happen next.

“I arrived here with just the shirt on my back. My money, identification, everything gone,” said Gliberto da Silva, 33, who lived and worked in Bento. “I don’t know what I‘m going to do now.”

As dusk falls, a comedy troupe from state capital Belo Horizonte arrives joking and dancing to put on a show for the children. “We want to do our bit,” said one of the comedians in clown shoes and a blue nose. “We want to make the children laugh.”

Reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer

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