Brazil Mine Disaster Leaves Swath of Destruction

Published: 30th November 2015 12:45 PM  |   Last Updated: 30th November 2015 12:45 PM   |  A+A-


BENTO RODRIGUES: This village used to be home for about 600 people. Then on Nov. 5, a dam at a nearby iron ore mine burst, unleashing a tsunami of mud that swept away nearly everything in its path, flattening houses, uprooting trees and tossing cars.

Thirteen people are confirmed dead, and 11 more remain missing.

With hundreds of survivors holed up in hotels and with family members in nearby towns, Bento Rodrigues and other nearby hamlets like Paracatu have become ghost towns — mud-slathered no-go-zones where a plastic rose, a religious picture, a doll are the only reminders of the lives people built.

"Here is where I raised a family, talked to my friends, played card games. Here is where I made a living," said Joao Eloi da Silva, whose once-bustling bar in Paracatu is a mud-filled shell. "Now my heart is locked, and I don't know what I'm going to do with my life."

The effects of the dam failure at the Samarco mine continue to ripple outward, affecting hundreds of thousands of people here in two states. After obliterating the nearby villages, the tide of mud and debris surged on, blanketing a wide swath of land and cascading into the Doce River.

The plume of mud devastated wildlife and compromised the drinking water source for cities both here in Minas Gerais state and in the neighboring state of Espirito Santo.

In the town of Colatina, people queued day and night for bottles of mineral water provided by the company operating the mine, Samarco, which is jointly owned by mining giants Vale of Brazil and BHP Billiton of Australia.

The mud plume snaked along hundreds of kilometers (miles) and has reached the Atlantic, threatening the breeding ground for critically endangered leatherback sea turtles.

The disaster also threatens the traditional way of life of the Krenak, an indigenous people who live along the Doce River.

"The Krenak people need the river. We live from the fishing and hunting and today there is nothing we can do," said Ererre, who goes by his first name only. "Now our river is dead, our river is over. Our fish are dead, everything is dead."

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