By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Rescue workers are racing to find survivors trapped under tons of mud after two dams gave way in the municipality of Bento Rodrigues, in the rural region of one of Minas Gerais’ most famous historic cities, Mariana. The mud is said to be toxic with residue materials from iron ore mines owned by Vale and BHP.
According to city officials, a thick layer of mud has covered the municipality and many residents are still unaccounted for. Minas Gerais fire officials say approximately 500 residents have been rescued and taken to either hospitals or temporary shelters.
Officials have confirmed only one death so far. Media reports from the area say that rescue workers are working on very dangerous grounds and there is the possibility of a third dam giving way.
Ricardo Vescovi, president of the Samarco company, owned by Brazil’s mining giant, Vale and Australian mining company, BHP, went on social media on Thursday night to assure the population that everything would be done to preserve lives and the environment.
It was Vescovi who confirmed that two and not one dam had given way, as stated by an earlier press release by the company. According to Vescovi the two dams are part of the company’s Germano industrial unit, located approximately 100 km from the state capital, Belo Horizonte and between two historical cities, Mariana and Ouro Preto.
According to reports, the water that descended upon the region contains residues from the mining plant. The residues are said to be full of chemicals and waste produced after the processing of the iron ore. Authorities are said to be scrambling to contain the mud and water so that it does not flow to a nearby river, and possibly into the water supply used by the region’s population.