RIO DE JANEIRO – A judge in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais convicted mining giant Vale on Tuesday to pay for all damages caused by the rupture of a tailings dam that killed at least 247 people and left 23 missing.
Judge Elton Pupo Nogueira, a state magistrate in Belo Horizonte – the capital of Minas Gerais –, didn’t define the amount of the compensation that the world’s largest iron producer and exporter must pay, according to judicial sources.
“It was not possible to quantify only by technical or scientific criteria,” the court said in a statement on its website, but the judge reaffirmed the provisional freezing of 11 billion reais (about $2.8 billion) in Vale’s bank accounts, which had been ordered by the court in January.
According to the judge, the value of the compensation isn’t limited to reparations for the deaths caused by the tragedy, but also to compensate for all environmental damage in the region and the loss of work for the inhabitants of the areas affected by the spill.
Vale’s lawyers said that the largest mining company in Latin America was conducting a comprehensive study to evaluate the impacts of the disaster and that it would compensate the families of all the victims.
This is the first ruling imposed by the court for the tragedy caused by the rupture of one of the dams in which the company stored mining waste in the Corrego do Feijao mine, located in Brumadinho, a small town in Minas Gerais.
The dam ruptured on Jan. 25, leaving at least 270 people dead or missing, most of them mining employees.
Videos of the tragedy showed the moment of the dam’s collapse, after which a sea of mud formed by 13 million cubic meters (459 million cubic feet) of waste swept away nearby homes and parts of Vale’s facilities within seconds.
Despite holding the company responsible for the tragedy, the judge denied the public prosecutor’s request that Vale suspend all its operations in the affected region with the argument that no evidence proving the other mining activities had violated legal or administrative regulations has been presented.