At least 34 people have been killed and about 300 others remain missing after a dam collapsed at an iron ore mine in south-eastern Brazil, officials say.
Rescue teams are scouring the site near the town of Brumadinho, in Minas Gerais state, following Friday’s collapse.
It is not clear what caused the failure of the dam, owned by Brazil’s largest mining company, Vale.
The company has had 5bn reais ($1.33bn; £1bn) frozen from its accounts to help fund recovery works and handle damages.
The rupture of the dam caused a sea of muddy sludge to bury the site’s cafeteria, where workers were eating lunch on Friday.
On Saturday, emergency services used helicopters and earth-moving machinery in the search for survivors.
Some 50 people were rescued from the sludge and 23 people were taken to hospital, but Minas Gerais state governor Romeu Zema said the chances of finding more survivors were slim.
“We’re likely to just be recovering bodies,” he said, adding that “those involved in this tragedy should be punished”.
Relatives of the missing have been demanding information on their loved ones.
“My five-year-old nephew is asking me if his dad died. What do I tell him?” asked Olivia Rios.
President Jair Bolsonaro, who flew over the disaster area in a helicopter on Saturday, tweeted that it was hard not to get “emotional” after seeing the scale of the devastation.
He said he had accepted an offer by Israel to send search equipment that could find people buried in the mud.
Also on Saturday, Brazil’s Environmental Protection Agency (Ibama) issued Vale with an initial fine of 250m reais ($66.5m; £50m) in relation to the incident.
Authorities co-ordinating the rescue effort urged volunteers to stay away because of the dangerous conditions, while media organisations were asked not to use drones in order to avoid collisions with helicopters.
The collapse comes just over three years since a dam burst in Mariana, also in Minas Gerais, killing 19 people, in what was considered Brazil’s worst environmental disaster.
What do we know about the collapse?
The dam near Feijão iron ore mine burst its barrier at around 13:00 local time (15:00 GMT) on Friday, flooding another dam down below.
The torrent of sludge cut through the dam’s complex, nearby farms and the neighbourhood where many of the workers live, destroying houses and vehicles.
There are reports that the dam’s alarm system – which local residents had been trained to respond to – failed at the time of the accident.
But Vale president Fabio Schvartsman said the accident may have occurred too quickly for a siren which triggers security protocols to be activated.
The Globo website later reported that rescue officials provided the following breakdown on the number of the missing:
- At least 100 people in the administrative area close to the burst dam
- About 30 people in the Vila Vértico area
- About 35 people at Nova Estancia Inn
- At least 100 people in the Parque das Cachoeiras
Dozens of trapped people, many of them covered in mud, had to be evacuated by helicopter as roads were destroyed.
Many other residents have been evacuated as a safety measure.
Dam collapse in Brazil
25 January 2019
Earlier this month
“I’m anxious, I want news,” 28-year-old Helton Pereira told the BBC as he waited outside a hospital in nearby Belo Horizonte – his 28-year-old wife and 35-year-old sister worked at the dam’s cafeteria and were both missing.
“From now, the odds are minimal and it’s most likely we’ll recover only bodies,” Governor Zema said.
Built in 1976, the dam was one of several in the area and it was used to hold residue from the mine.
It had a capacity of 12m cubic metres and had been an inactive site for three years, Vale said.
What happened in 2015?
On 5 November 2015, a dam – also owned by Vale, along with BHP Billiton – burst at a Samarco mine in Mariana.
More than 60m cubic metres – enough to fill 20,000 Olympic swimming pools – spilled over into the surrounding area.
After a lengthy court case, BHP Billiton and Vale reached a settlement worth at least 6.8bn reais with the Brazilian government.
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Source : BBC