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Vale tailings dam collapsed leaving nine dead and 200 missing

Vale tailings dam collapses
Thirty four people are confirmed dead and approximately two hundred missing in a Vale tailings dam collapse

A Vale tailings dam has collapsed leaving nine dead and 200 hundred people missing in Brumadinho, South-Eastern Brazil. The incident is reminiscent of the tragic Samarco incident which resulted in 19 deaths and millions of litres of tailings waste pollute the Brazilian countryside.

Vale has confirmed in a statement this afternoon, ‘there was a breach of Dam 1 of the Mine Bean in Brumadinho (MG)’ Vale said ‘The company deeply regrets the accident and is making every effort to provide relief and support to those affected.’

The tailings have reached the administrative area where employees were working, indicating, the still unconfirmed possibility of victims. Part of the Vila Ferteco community has also been affected.

Rescue and care of the wounded is being carried out on site by the Fire Department and Civil Defense. There is still no confirmation as to the cause of the accident.

The top priority of the company right now is to support the rescue efforts and to help preserve the lives of direct employees, third-party employees and local communities.

Vale chief executive Fabio Schvartsman called it a “human tragedy” and said a German company, hired to assess the dam, indicated in the most recent report last September that it was stable.

All other Vale tailings dam were being monitored.

Multiple news sources have reported that rescue teams used earth-moving machinery at the site near the town of Brumadinho, in Minas Gerais state.

The Governor of the province Romeu Zema has said there was little chance of finding people alive. Nine people have been confirmed dead so far.

Vale tailings dam collapse reminiscent of Samarco

Earlier in January, BHP confirmed that its Samarco Mineracao joint venture with Vale SA would pay USD $510M this year would make settlement payments each year between 2019 and 2021, according to the rehabilitation project needs. The company has already received significant fines for the event.

According to a technical report commissioned by BHP and Vale into the Samarco collapse, tailings dams are typically made of a mixture of sand-like particles and clay-like silt.

The report indicated ‘that a change in the Fundao dam’s design between 2011 and 2012 led to less efficient water drainage, and ultimately to the dam’s collapse in November 2015. Sand in the dam walls became saturated and abruptly started to behave more like a liquid, in a process known as “liquefaction”.

“There was a fundamental change in the design concept whereby more widespread saturation was allowed and accepted,” the report said, adding “this increase in the extent of saturation introduced the potential for sand liquefaction.”

BHP’s total costs for Samarco have been estimated to be at USD $2.2 bn (which included a write off of the investment).

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