By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Residents of Barão do Cocais, in the state of Minas Gerais were given a local holiday on Monday (March 25th) by city officials. The city, located below the Gongo Soco mine, operated by mining giant Vale, is expected to hold emergency drills for the population in case the dam breaks.

Brazil, Brazil news, politics, Minas Gerais,Residents in Barão de Cocais listen to directions about possible evacuation if dam breaks
Residents in Barão de Cocais listen to directions about possible evacuation if dam breaks, photo courtesy of Minas Gerais Government.

“It is important to emphasize that if there is an evacuation, people need to leave on foot, with tranquility. Vehicles should not be used, because the roads should be free for firemen and police vehicles that will be helping the people,” stated Lieutenant Colonel Flávio Godinho, deputy coordinator of the Civil Defense of Minas Gerais.

The measure was adopted after Vale issued an alert on Friday regarding the risk of a dam rupture in the area. According to the company an independent auditor reported that upper south dam of the Gongo Soco Mine presented a ‘critical condition’ of stability. With the report the company increased the safety level from two to three, and sounded the alarm for evacuation of those living on lower ground.

Godinho said that a digital version of the city map with escape routes was sent to all residents. The coordinator also said that the simulation follows international standards of evacuation and over 600 personnel, including Vale employees, will be at hand to help guide the population to safer grounds.

The state is already providing over 1,400 signs to be installed showing ‘escape routes’ and ‘safe location’ spots.

Children from the school district are only expected to return to classes on Wednesday.

Since February 8th those residents living in the direct path of the mud from a possible breach of the dam had already been evacuated.

According to officials the in the event of a rupture the estimate is that the water/mud would reach the urban area of the city after an hour and twelve minutes after the break.

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