Mud swallows houses after dam break at Brazil mine

Brumadinho (Brazil) (AFP) –


"Adelia's home was there. And there was Nilza's, who sold sugarcane, also swallowed up," Rosilene Aganetti said Saturday, pointing out an expanse of mud engulfing a road and the surrounding land.

The devastation was left by a dam collapse at a mine in Brazil's southeast, close to the city of Belo Horizonte on Friday.

The mine, owned by one of the world's biggest mining corporations, Vale, bore the brunt of the human loss.

But residents nearby -- friends and family of those working at the facility -- were badly shaken as well.

"There used to be people here, houses. I'm just floored by this tragedy," Aganetti, 57, told AFP in her village of Alberto Flores.

Above, rescue helicopters rattled in the sky, looking for survivors in the 150-meter (164-yard) wide river of darkish mud that lay in contrast with the verdant vegetation beyond.

"Several of my friends who were in the Vale cafeteria are missing," Aganetti said, holding back sobs.

The dam, holding liquid waste from the iron-ore mine, had ruptured at lunchtime, spewing a mass weighing millions of tons (tonnes) out across the mine, including into the full cafeteria.

"I used to live just under the dam. It was there I raised my daughters," said the woman, whose husband spent years working for Vale.

Another woman, Suely de Olivera Costa, tried to get to the mine to look for her husband, who was also an employee there. She, like everyone except rescue personnel, was stopped by security guards.

- Fury at Vale -

"I'm so desperate," she cried.

"How can I be calm if he's already dead?" she wailed, brushing off one guard who told her to "calm down."

She referred to another devastating dam disaster three years earlier at a mine elsewhere in the region that was jointly operated by Vale.

The woman accused the company of "now destroying Brumadinho and nobody is doing anything -- what will be the next town?"

The confirmed death toll from the dam rupture stood at 11 late Saturday. But with nearly 300 people missing, there were fears it would sharply rise.

William Guilherme Silva, a 21-year-old rail employee, said he had been unable to locate "six or seven people I know, including some people I'm very close to," childhood friends.

He also directed fury at Vale.

"That dam stopped being used in 2015, and it remained in maintenance. They did nothing, and it collapsed," he said.

In the village, the force of the millions of tons (tonnes) of mineral-laced mine waste released by the dam brought down an electricity pylon, and half-buried a car in a ditch.

Nearly 200 inhabitants milled around in silence at the scene previously occupied by homes and now swept through with a vast scar of dark clay.

The sky, blue at the start of the day, darkened as the hours went on, adding rain to the complicated rescue operation being carried out.