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Monday, January 28, 2019

Hundreds are feared dead following a mining disaster in Brazil

Brazilian rescuers searched into the night on Sunday for hundreds of people missing after a burst mining dam triggered a deadly mudslide, as the death toll rose to 58 and was expected to keep climbing more than two days after the disaster.

Rescuers worked past sunset to search a bus thought to have bodies inside and a home where three bodies were already found, state fire department spokesman Pedro Aihara told reporters.


The collapsed dam at Vale SA’s Corrego do Feijao mine buried mining facilities and nearby homes in the town of Brumadinho, killing dozens and leaving the community in shock.


“Until the last body is found, the fire department is acting on the possibility there could be people alive,” Aihara told reporters. “Obviously, given the nature of the accident, as time passes, this chance will go down.”

After announcing the latest number of confirmed dead, state civil defense agency spokesman Flavio Godinho told reporters he expected the death toll to continue rising.

Just over 300 people were still missing, with the list of those unaccounted for being constantly updated, Godinho said. Most of the missing are presumed dead, officials said.

The cause of the dam burst remained unclear. Recent inspections did not indicate any problems, according to the German firm that conducted the inspection.

Avimar de Melo Barcelos, the mayor of Brumadinho, blasted Vale for being “careless and incompetent,” and blamed the mining company for the tragedy and the state of Minas Gerais for poor oversight. He vowed to fine the miner 100 million reais ($26.5 million).

Vale Chief Executive Officer Fabio Schvartsman said in a television interview on Sunday the disaster happened even after the company followed experts’ safety recommendations.

“I’m not a mining technician. I followed the technicians’ advice and you see what happened. It didn’t work,” Schvartsman said. “We are 100 percent within all the standards, and that didn’t do it.”

The CEO promised “to go above and beyond any national or international standards…. We will create a cushion of safety far superior to what we have today to guarantee this never happens again.”

Vale’s board of directors suspended its planned shareholder dividends, share buybacks and executive bonuses in light of the disaster, according to a securities filing on Sunday.

The board also created independent committees to investigate the causes of the dam burst and to monitor relief efforts.

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