RIO DE JANEIRO – The number of deaths due to the collapse of an iron mine dam on Jan. 25 in the Brazilian city of Brumadinho has risen to 142 on Tuesday and the number of missing persons has dropped to 194, according to the latest Civil Defense report.
Search work in the area resumed in the early hours of Tuesday with the participation of some 400 men, including firefighters, army soldiers and volunteers.
According to the report, during the day explorations were carried out at 22 points of the region affected by the tragedy with the help of 10 helicopters and supported by boats and excavators.
The tragedy occurred when one of the tailing dams where the mineral waste of a mine operated by the Brazilian mining giant Vale in Brumadinho, in the state of Minas Gerais, southeastern Brazil, were stored, broke and generated an avalanche that buried the company’s own facilities and hundreds of rural properties.
The work of recovering victims is complex and is developing slowly because of the complexity of the terrain and the mountain of waste that in some areas reaches 20 meters in height.
In the judicial field, a Brazilian justice ordered on Tuesday to release five people who had been arrested and are accused of having manipulated documents on the safety of the dam that broke.
In that ruling, the investigator of the case, magistrate Nefi Cordeiro, considered that the two engineers of the German company Tuev Sued and the three employees of the Vale mining company, owner of the dam that collapsed, had already testified before the court and did not find that they would be a danger to society, so he saw no reason to keep them in prison.
As a result of various actions brought by the regional government and the Attorney General’s Office, the Justice has seized at least 12 billion reais (about $3.26 billion) from Vale’s accounts to guarantee the payment of compensation to the victims and for the damages caused.
Vale announced last week that it will close all dams built with the same method as in Brumadinho, which means from the mine waste and earth.
However, the company announced on Monday that it will appeal a court decision that ordered the stop of operations in at least eight of the company’s dams, including Laranjeiras, in the Brucutu Mine, the largest mine of Vale in Minas Gerais.
The disaster in Brumadinho came three years after a similar one in Mariana, also in the state of Minas Gerais, where the collapse of several dams at the Samarco mine, run by Vale and BHP Billiton, resulted in 19 deaths and caused what was until then Brazil’s worst environmental catastrophe.