Death toll in mine disaster increases to 40

Daniel Fowler
January 30, 2019

The company's American depository shares on the New York Stock Exchange were up 3 per cent Tuesday afternoon on the New York Stock Exchange, to $11.54 each, after falling almost 18 per cent on Monday. The Brazilian bourse was closed that day for a public holiday.

Police detained five people in connection with the disaster, including two engineers at a company in Sao Paulo who certified the safety of the dam, Globo reported, citing arrest warrants.

Vale's board of directors suspended its planned shareholder dividends, share buybacks and executive bonuses in light of the disaster, according to a securities filing on Sunday.

Brazil's environmental protection agency Ibama announced on Saturday that it had initially fined Vale R$250 million (US$66 million) for the most recent incident, while Brazilian authorities have frozen R$6 billion of Vale's assets to help deal with the damages.

The disaster happened near the city of Belo Horizonte in the Minas Gerais state, unleashing a torrent of mud towards the town of Brumadinho in the south east of the country on Friday evening.

Officials said the death toll was expected to grow "exponentially", since none had been rescued alive since Saturday. "However, we are working with the possibility of finding people alive", he added.

But their efforts were likely to be slowed by the shifting, risky terrain.

Neighbors of an iron ore mine belonging to Brazilian miner Vale SA were evacuated on Friday in southeastern Minas Gerais state, when a tailings dam ruptured, pouring out mud into the surrounding area, the company and authorities said.

Avimar de Melo Barcelos, the mayor of the town of Brumadinho where the dam burst in Brazil's mining hub of Minas Gerais state, said seven bodies had been recovered by nightfall.

Emergency workers also found an company bus buried in the mud with bodies inside.

"I'm angry. There is no way I can stay calm", said Sonia Fatima da Silva, as she tried to get information about her son, who had worked at Vale for 20 years.

Pedro Vilela  Getty Images
Pedro Vilela Getty Images

With a dozen kilometres (eight miles) of mud to carefully scour, the operation has proceeded slowly, barely denting the long list of the missing.

The closure of the mine is likely given the limited size of Feijao and the cost of rebuilding the burst dam.

TUEV Sued, based in Munich, confirmed Monday that it had conducted a periodic review of dams for Brazilian mining company Vale in July 2018 and a regular inspection of dam safety in September past year.

That net result was 38 percent higher than the previous year, evidence of a bounce back after a sharp commodities slump in 2015 that forced the company into cost-cutting.

Sueli de Oliveira Costa, who hadn't heard from her husband since Friday, had harsh words for the mining company.

The collapse of the dam in the hilly, pastoral region has caused 84 confirmed deaths so far, according to Civil Defence spokesman Flavio Godinho on Tuesday, while the number of missing fell from 292 to 276.

Vale is one of the top miners in the world, behind BHP and Rio Tinto, both Anglo-Australian groups.

The company is the world's largest producer of iron ore, the raw ingredient for making steel.

The company, has a workforce of 76,500 worldwide and also operates hydroelectric plants, rail lines, ports and ships to get its products to market.

At the headquarters for the local mining union, which lost more than one in 10 members by organizers' count, treasurer José Francisco Mateiro blamed the company and authorities for putting him and his comrades at risk. It was privatised in 1997.

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