Saturday, June 22, 2024

LATIN AMERICA | 28-01-2019 16:23

60 dead, 292 missing days after Brazil mine dam's collapse

The fire department said they expect the number of confirmed fatal victims to grow "exponentially" as the search continues this Monday.

The confirmed death toll from a dam collapse in Brazil rose to 60 on Monday, with 292 people still missing, the Minas Gerais state fire department said. Four days after iron ore waste flooded mine buildings and surrounding neighborhoods of Brumadinho, Brazilian firefighters carefully moved over the treacherous mud, sometimes walking, sometimes crawling, in search of survivors or bodies.

Nobody was recovered alive Sunday, a stark difference from the first two days of the disaster, when helicopters were whisking people from the mud. The fire department said they expect the number of confirmed fatal victims to grow "exponentially" as the search continues this Monday.

Rescue teams began work on areas where many bodies are expected to be found, like the site of a bus and the Vale cafeteria, early Monday morning.

The treacherous reddish-brown mud that surged out from mine dam Friday afternoon has slowed search efforts. The mud is up to 24 feet (8 meters) deep in some places. To avoid the danger of sinking and drowning searchers had to carefully walk around the edges or slowly crawl out onto the muck.

On the day of the breach, helicopters looking for bodies were taking off and landing nonstop. On the ground, dozens of rescuers with tracking dogs were searching for bodies through the mountains of mud. The Associated Press witnessed a helicopter rescue of three bodies that arrived at the search center.

Rescue efforts were suspended about 10 hours Sunday because of fears that a second mine dam in the southeastern city of Brumadinho was at risk of failing. An estimated 24,000 people were told to get to higher ground, but by afternoon civil engineers said the second dam was no longer at risk.

Areas of water-soaked mud appeared to be drying out, which could help firefighters get to areas previously unreachable. Still, it was slow going for the search teams, and residents were on edge.

Some residents have taken matters into their own hands. Wagner Rogerio, 43, searched for childhood friends with no equipment or instructions.

"My family tells me I'm not a superhero and that I should go home. But the very least my friends deserve is a dignified burial," he said with tears in his eyes.

More than 100 Israeli specialists equipped with specialized rescue technology joined the 200 Brazilian firefighters on Monday morning.

Throughout the weekend, there was mounting anger at the giant Vale mining company, which operated the mine, and questions rose about an apparent lack of an ahead of Friday's collapse.

In an email, Vale told The Associated Press that the area has eight sirens, but "the speed in which the event happened made sounding an alarm impossible" when the dam burst.

Clamor for culpability was growing. Sen. Renan Calheiros on Sunday called for Vale's board of directors to step down and on Monday, Attorney General Raquel Dodge told reporters that Vale executives could be held responsible.

Vale's defense lawyer, Sergio Bermudes told the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper that the board will not step down, arguing that "no wrongdoing has been proven, much less blame."

"Vale doesn't see any decisive reasons indicating the company's responsibility. There was no negligence, recklessness, or malpractice," Bermudes said. "Why do dams break? There are several factors, and they will be subject to technical investigations."

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