Five engineers arrested over Brazil dam collapse

Aerial view of a fallen bridge taken after the collapse of a dam near the town of Brumadinho in southeastern Brazil.

BRAZIL: Five engineers, including two working for a German company, were arrested in Brazil Tuesday as part of a probe into a deadly dam collapse last week at a mine in the country’s southeast, officials said.

Three of the engineers work for Vale, the owner of the mine, and were directly involved in the process of the facility’s operating licenses, the prosecutors’ office in the state of Minas Gerais said.

They were arrested in Belo Horizonte, the main city of Minas Gerais and close to where the Vale mine is situated, near the town of Brumadinho.

Meanwhile, the death toll from the collapse of a Brazilian dam rose to 84 on Tuesday as mining giant Vale announced that moves to dismantle similar structures would hit production.

Brazilian authorities are stepping up their probe of Vale, with five engineers involved in the operating licenses and the last inspection of the dam arrested on prosecutors’ orders in the state of Minas Gerais, where the disaster occurred Friday at one of the firm’s mines.

Flavio Godinho, Civil Defense spokesman in Minas Gerais, said the death toll had increased from 65 to 84, while the number of missing fell from 292 to 276.

Shares in Vale -- the world’s biggest iron ore miner -- meanwhile ticked up nearly two percent in Sao Paulo, still far from recovering from a 24-percent wipeout suffered on Monday.

The company said it will freeze operations around 10 dams in Brazil to dismantle structures such as the one that resulted in the Friday disaster -- a move that will reduce annual iron ore production by 10 percent or 40 million tons.

The dam collapse at the Vale mine near the town of Brumadinho occurred three years after a similar disaster at another one of its sights in the same region.

That 2015 dam rupture, near Mariana, killed 19 people and caused what was considered the worst environmental catastrophe Brazil had seen.

Authorities have ordered $3 billion in Vale assets be frozen to pay for fines, compensation and employee salaries to families.

“If there has truly been negligence or recklessness by certain people in that company, they will face criminal action,” Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourao vowed Monday.

The search for bodies was ongoing Tuesday, with a team of Israeli soldiers joining Brazilian crews who have been laboriously probing for days the expanse of mud released by the dam.

The barrier, which was in the process of being decommissioned, held around 13 million tons of tailings, or sludgy mining waste.

Men were digging, often by hand, to depths of up to 15 meters (50 feet) to recover corpses encased in mud. The remains were then bagged and airlifted away by helicopter. The fetid odor of decomposing bodies rose from the brown surface.

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

Brazil’s authorities feared pollution from the mine waste could reach hydro-electric power plants between early and mid-February.

The environmental group WWF said that a forest area “equivalent to 125 football fields” had been lost, and it was still too early to know the full ecological scope of the disaster.


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