Vale dam disaster: $7bn compensation for disaster victims

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Media caption,
Elias Nunes was in his truck when the dam collapsed

Communities hit by a dam disaster in Brazil two years ago which killed 270 people will get a $7bn (£5bn) payout.

The Brumadinho dam contained waste from an iron ore mine but gave way, unleashing a sea of mud which engulfed a staff canteen, offices and farms.

Senior staff at the company responsible - Brazilian mining giant Vale - are facing murder charges over the January 2019 disaster.

The move seals Vale's aim to "fully compensate" for the disaster, it said.

The state government said the amount was an initial estimate and that the company would have to pay more if necessary.

"The agreement requires Vale to fully repair all environmental damage. The above-mentioned amount... could be increased if necessary," it said in a statement.

Vale said it would pay both "socio-economic" and "socio-environmental" reparations, funding projects to repair the surrounding environment, including a massive clean-up of the Paraopeba river.

Vale said it would face additional expenses of £2.68bn related to the agreement this year.

'He never came back'

Brazil's worst industrial accident sent millions of tons of toxic waste gushing into the surrounding area, destroying the rural village of Córrego do Feijão, in the state of Minas Gerais in south-eastern Brazil.

"My husband left home for work in the morning, said 'God be with you', as he always did," Sirley Gonçalves told the BBC a few days after the accident.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The muddy sludge buried the dam's cafeteria where hundreds of workers were eating

But he never came back.

The dam collapsed at about lunchtime without warning, but the alarm system that Vale had installed in the village to warn the residents of any risk did not go off.

Those who managed to survive had to run for their lives.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Cars were swept away like toys by the powerful current

"Vale destroyed our lives," said Ms Gonçalves. "They must have known the dam would break. But they don't care about their employees, they care about their money."

Intentional homicide

It was not the first time the mining firm - the world's largest producer of iron ore and pellets - had been linked to a dam disaster.

In November 2015, a mining dam operated by Vale's subsidiary, Samarco, collapsed in the town of Mariana, just 120km (74 miles) away in the same state of Minas Gerais, killing 19 people and devastating two nearby villages.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The dam was used to hold residue from the nearby Feijão iron ore mine, and its collapse caused a sea of waste to spread across rural areas of Minas Gerais state

The disaster saw Samarco - a Vale and BHP Billiton joint venture - paying out billions in compensation and setting up Foundation Renova, a body supposed to help victims rebuild their lives and restore the river.

After the 2019 Brumadinho disaster, Brazilian prosecutors charged 16 people, including Vale's ex-president Fabio Schvartsman, with intentional homicide and environmental offences, alleging they hid the risk of a dam collapse.

In the wake of the collapse, Vale said it would decommission all 10 remaining "tailings" dams, which are often made from earth and used to store the often toxic mining by-products.

It also promised to investigate more expensive waste management options and significantly reduce its output.