Hundreds evacuated amid risk of new mine dam collapses in Brazil


Brazilian authorities on Friday evacuated hundreds of people in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais due to the risk of more tailings dam collapses like the one that left at least 157 dead last month.

The first evacuation of 500 people was carried out in different neighborhoods of the rural town of Barao de Cocais, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the state capital of Belo Horizonte.

The action was ordered by Brazil’s ANM mining regulator after a consulting firm refused to corroborate the safety of the Sul Superior tailings dam at the Gongo Soco iron-ore mine, owned by Brazilian mining giant Vale.

The evacuation comes two weeks after the collapse of a tailings dam at another Vale mine in Brumadinho, Minas Gerais, triggered a torrent of muddy mining waste that engulfed company offices, homes and cars.

The Jan. 25 incident claimed the lives of 157 people and left 182 others missing (and presumed dead).

Vale said the decision was preventative and the result of inspections being carried out at mine dams in the region.

It added that it will install equipment at the Sul Superior tailings dam with the ability to detect the slightest movement inside the structure and that “international consultants” will conduct an evaluation on Sunday.

The Sul Superior dam, which like the collapsed structure in Brumadinho is made out of tailings (ore waste from the mine) and dirt, is one of 10 that Vale has said it plans to eliminate.

Separately, around 50 families residing in the town of Itatiaiucu, located 80 kilometers from Belo Horizonte, also were evacuated from their homes early Friday morning and taken to a hotel in the interior of Minas Gerais state.

That evacuation also was triggered by the risk of the collapse of another mine dam owned by steel producer and iron-ore miner ArcelorMittal.

The Minas Gerais Fire Department said the situation is under control.

Brazilian authorities, meanwhile, are continuing their search-and-rescue effort in Brumadinho even though the chance of finding survivors is considered “minimal” and some bodies buried under the sea of mud released by the dam may never be located.

The tragedy in Brumadinho occurred just three years after a similar talings dam collapse at a mined co-owned by Vale and Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP Billiton in Mariana, Minas Gerais, left 19 dead and caused an unprecedented environmental catastrophe.