On Thursday, November 5, two dams at an iron ore operation in southeast Brazil ruptured causing massive flooding in nearby villages. The collapse happened at the Fundão and Santarem dams in the Bento Rodrigues district in Mariana, Minas Gerais, which were holding iron ore tailings and waste from the Germano mine, operated by Samarco, a joint venture of Vale and BHP Billiton.
Samarco CEO Ricardo Vescovi de Aragão said the number of fatalities and those missing could not be confirmed, but Reuters has reported that two people are dead and 30 are injured.
According to Reuters, firefighters rescued 30 from Bento Rodrigues, 150 km southeast of Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais, and floods extended as far as the town of Barra Longa, 80 kilometers away.
Vescovi de Aragao said the cause of the collapse is still unknown. Production at Germano was shut down immediately following the accident.
“We are profoundly concerned with this serious accident and are fully committed to taking the necessary steps to mitigate the effects,” he said.
According to Samarco officials, all dams have operation licenses issued by the regional environmental office and the last inspection in July indicated that they were in safe conditions.
Both Vale and BHP Billiton have issued statements expressing their sympathy and commitment to working with Samarco and local authorities to identify the cause.
“First and foremost, our thoughts are with the Samarco employees, contractors, their families and the local community of Bento Rodrigues that has been devastated by the flooding. We are deeply concerned for their welfare,” CEO BHP Andrew Mackenzie said. “We still don’t know the full extent of the situation, but we are working closely with Samarco, and with Vale, to better understand the circumstances.”
“We would like to express our solidarity to all affected by this accident at Samarco’s tailings dams in the state of Minas Gerais,” said Murilo Ferreira, CEO and president of Vale. “We will do everything in our power to offer all the necessary support to Samarco and the authorities at this sad time for employees, their family members and the neighboring communities.”