BRUMADINHO (Xinhua) – At least 34 people were killed, and hundreds remain missing, after a tailings dam owned by iron mining giant Vale collapsed Friday afternoon, in Brazil’s southeastern state of Minas Gerais, the state fire department said.
Of the 34 victims, eight were identified as Vale company workers.
Some 366 people have been rescued so far, Minas Gerais state fire department says. Of those, 23 have been taken to hospital.
It is not clear what caused the failure of the dam, owned by Vale, Brazil’s largest mining company.
It is estimated that at least 252 Vale workers remain unaccounted for, according to the company, while authorities are still trying to determine the number of local residents reported missing.
The rupture of the dam caused a sea of muddy sludge to bury the site’s cafeteria, where workers were eating lunch, and at least one bus that carried employees.
Civil defence officials said there was still hope to find survivors, as helicopters have found some places which were possibly used as shelters.
Earlier, state Governor Romeu Zema said the chances of finding more survivors were slim. “We’re likely to just be recovering bodies.”
Search and rescue operations were suspended as night fell in Brumadinho Saturday at 8:00 pm local time (2200 GMT).
Vale has been imposed an initial fine of 250 million reals (US$66 million) by Brazil’s environment protection agency Ibama. In addition, Brazilian courts have blocked six billion reals (US$1.59 billion) in Vale assets, in order to ensure payment of compensation.
The Brazilian government has promised a full investigation into the matter.
President Jair Bolsonaro, and Minas Gerais state Governor, Romeu Zema, flew over the dam site earlier in the day and promised manpower and resources to bolster search and rescue operations.
Condolences were expressed on social media to Estancia Inn, a small hotel close to the dam, which was buried by mudslide. According to local residents, there could be around 30 or 35 people inside, including its owners, employees and guests.