Brazil dam burst: Death toll rises to 115, 248 missing

Published: February 04, 2019 17:50:04 | Updated: February 06, 2019 10:54:19

The death toll from a dam burst in the Brazilian town of Brumadinho rose to 115 people on Friday, according to the team tasked with recovering bodies from the site.

The rescue and recovery team said that 248 people were now listed as missing, a number that grew by 10 after miner Vale SA, which owned the dam, identified additional workers as unaccounted for.

The burst tailings dam at the Corrego do Feijao mine last Friday has ignited intense public anger against Vale, which was co-owner of Samarco, the previous dam that collapsed, reports Reuters.

Around 2,000 people gathered in Belo Horizonte, capital of the mining-intensive state of Minas Gerais which was home to both disasters, to protest against Vale, with some saying its top executives should be jailed.

"I lost three of my students," said Aparecida Moreira, a teacher at a local law school. "They are dead, and we don't know where their bodies are."

There were also demands for a congressional investigation.

An internal study showed the miner knew as recently as last year that some of the areas swamped with toxic mud were at risk if the dam burst, according to a report by Folha de S Paulo newspaper. Vale described the document as a routine disaster preparation plan required by regulators.

The disaster poses a headache for the new government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, whose new business-friendly administration must juggle public anger over the tragedy and its own desire to ease mining and environmental regulations to kick-start growth.

Hildebrando Neto, Minas Gerais' deputy minister for environmental regulations, told Reuters late on Thursday that all evidence suggests that the burst was caused by liquefaction, whereby a solid material such as sand loses strength and stiffness and behaves more like a liquid.

Dams holding mining waste, known as tailings, sometimes collapse for this reason.

Major Brazilian TV outlets obtained dramatic security camera video showing the outer wall of the dam collapsing and an avalanche of mud crushing trees, houses and cars in its path. Closeups replayed throughout the day showed cars and people scrambling unsuccessfully to escape the dark red torrent.

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