Death toll rises to 58 as hope fades for hundreds missing in Brazil dam collapse

Source: Xinhua| 2019-01-28 17:13:45|Editor: Xiang Bo
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Photo taken on Jan. 27, 2019 shows a destroyed house at the area affected by the collapse of a tailings dam, near the town of Brumadinho, the state of Minas Gerias, Brazil. The death toll from Brazil's collapsed tailings dam climbed to 58, with 305 people still missing in southeast Brazil's Minas Gerais state, said local authorities. (Xinhua/Li Ming)

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan. 27 (Xinhua) -- Hundreds of people are still missing due to a collapsed mining dam on Friday. 58 people have been killed so far, and the death toll may keep climbing.

Of the 58 victims, 19 have been identified. The missing 305 people include residents of the destroyed area and workers from Brazilian mining company Vale, according to the state fire department.

The chances of finding more survivors of Friday's tailings dam disaster "are really slim," said Eduardo Angelo, chief of the fire department, on Sunday.

During a meeting with residents of the nearby community of Corrego do Feijao, which was flooded by the toxic sludge, Angelo said time was running out.

"There is the possibility of finding people alive, yes. However, what has been written about these kinds of events shows that after 48 hours of efforts, the chances of finding survivors are really slim," said Angelo.

However, "we are working with the possibility of finding people alive," he added.

The Brazilian government has promised a full investigation into the matter. President Jair Bolsonaro and Minas Gerais state Governor Romeu Zema flew over the affected region earlier in the day, and promised manpower to aid the rescue and resources to help the region recover.

Search and rescue work started early Sunday morning but was suspended and thousands of residents were ordered to move to safe places after an alarm was activated, as there was a risk that another dam of the Corrego do Feijao mine complex, this time a water dam, could rupture as well.

Rescue efforts resumed at 3:00 p.m. (1700 GMT) after the dam was drained, and evacuation was called off after the dam was no longer at risk of bursting.

Rescue workers are facing certain logistical challenges in reaching survivors, Angelo said. "We aren't able to reach them, because as we advance through the mud, we find bodies. Each body we find, we do the work and return. Yesterday we located a bus, but as we were getting to it, we found a body, and then another, and another. Today we will reach the bus. We have to excavate it," Angelo said.

Also on Sunday, Brazilian judicial officials in southeast Minas Gerais state froze another 5 billion reals (1.325 billion U.S. dollars) in bank accounts belonging to mining giant Vale in the wake of Friday's tailings dam collapse.

It was the third time officials have put a freeze on Vale accounts since Friday, bringing the total of frozen assets to 11 billion reals (2.915 billion dollars).

Freezing the assets aims to guarantee that funds are available to pay for reparations to the victims, most of them mine workers.

According to prosecutors, in addition to material damage, the disaster has caused "evident and notable moral, psychological, emotional, communal, health and cultural damage."

It is the second time in just over three years that a tailings dam at a Vale-owned mining operation in Brazil has collapsed, flooding communities and fields with toxic waste.

In November 2015, a tailings dam collapsed at a mine in Mariana, also in Minas Gerais, killing 19 people and causing what was considered Brazil's worst environmental disaster. Vale was a co-owner of the mine.