Latin America & Caribbean

Brazil dams burst: Search for missing in Minas Gerais

Village of Bento Rodrigues, destroyed by the collapse of the two dams Image copyright AFP
Image caption Some 150 houses in the village of Bento Rodrigues were destroyed by the deadly sludge

Rescue workers in south-eastern Brazil are continuing a search for 28 people who are missing feared dead after two dams holding waste water from an iron ore mine burst, flooding nearby homes.

A huge wall of red sludge descended on the village of Bento Rodrigues when the dams collapsed on Thursday afternoon.

The authorities in the state of Minas Gerais have confirmed the death of one person.

Many residents managed to save themselves by running to higher ground.

But hope is fading for 13 mine workers and 15 residents, including five children, who are still missing.

"When I went outside, there were already people running uphill saying the dam burst,'' recalled resident Joaquim Dutra.

"All I did was close my house and run to the top," he told the AP news agency.

'Sludge still moving'

More than 500 people lived in Bento Rodrigues, which lies about 7km (four miles) south of the burst dams.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The volume of water released is equivalent to that of 25,000 Olympic swimming pools
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Rescue workers have found horses and other animals stuck in the thick mud

It is part of Mariana, an old colonial town and a major tourist attraction in Brazil.

Mariana Mayor Duarte Junior said some 500 people were taking part in the rescue effort.

"The search goes on. We are doing what we can" he said.

"The sludge is still moving, but the worst is over."

Firefighters say they are finally managing to walk where the mud has started to dry out.

But the only life found there now are stranded animals like dogs and cattle, reports the BBC's Julia Carneiro, in Rio de Janeiro.

Health risk

The thick red mud surge engulfed cars and lorries, and destroyed homes.

The floodwaters and mud have now reached towns up to 70km (40 miles) away, local media report.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Shops and homes were flooded in Barra Longa, some 40km (25 miles) away from the dams
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The mud has caused destruction in six villages of Minas Gerais state

The mine is owned by Vale and BHP Billiton and is operated by Samarco.

There are fears that the iron ore residue in the mud poses a health risk.

The company does not have information on the environmental impact of the dam bursts, a Samarco spokesman told the Reuters news agency.

The cause of the breach is not yet known.

The authorities are investigating whether low-intensity tremors registered in the area on Thursday could have played a part in the tragedy.

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