World

The moment the Brazil dam wall collapsed unleashing mud torrent

0:00

Footage of the moment an iron ore tailings dam wall collapses in Brazil has been released.

A video released Friday shows the exact moment a deadly dam burst in Brazil on January 25, killing at least 110 people.

The wall of sludge and mud from the dam is seen encroaching from the left side of the screen as vehicles move around on the right side but they are eventually covered by the mud.

The dam failure unleashed a surge of mud that buried buildings adjoining the dam and several parts of the nearby city of Brumadinho.

Firefighters work during the search and rescue operation for victims of the dam burst, in Brumadinho, Brazil, 28 January 2019.
Firefighters work during the search and rescue operation for victims of the dam collapse.
AAP

Authorities said Thursday a total of 110 bodies had been recovered and 238 are listed as missing.

Vale SA, the giant Brazilian company that owned and operated the iron ore mine, has said the torrent of reddish-brown mud unleashed Friday did not have dangerous levels of metals.

The environmental impact is still being evaluated.

Authorities fear the mineral-laced slurry released by the collapse could eventually pollute the Sao Francisco River, the second-longest in Brazil, which hosts various species of fish and has many towns on its banks.

A volunteer walks next to a partially destroyed home, two days after a dam collapsed in Brumadinho, Brazil.
A volunteer walks next to a partially destroyed home, two days after a dam collapsed in Brumadinho, Brazil.
AAP

Daily tests carried out by Brazil's national water agency ANA in the Paraopeba tributary, muddied along 200 kilometers (120 miles) by the dam burst, show the presence of metals in the water have spiked to unhealthy levels.

Residents along the riverbanks have already said fish they relied on for food were floating to the surface, dead.

"Most of us here are very rural, riverside people, so we use the Paraopeba River to feed ourselves. It gives us fish, we use it to water our plants, and now we can't do this anymore, so many people have been affected by the dam breaking," one local, Leda de Oliveira, 31, told AFP.

Worst industrial disaster

The latest ANA results showed iron, magnesium and aluminum at worrying levels.

It added that, while trace levels of lead and mercury had initially spiked, they had since fallen to normal counts. Arsenic - another impurity often found in iron ore waste - was not a problem, according to the tests.

But those measured just water quality, and not the way the elements were being absorbed in sediment, food chains and the general ecosystem.

Experts say the real long-term effects of the dam break at the mine, located near the town of Brumadinho and owned by Brazilian mining giant Vale, may not be evident for years.

"Right now there are many unknowns -- how toxic is the waste? How mobile are the toxins? Will the waste move again? It is only when these things are known that we will really know how bad this will be," an expert in landslides, Professor David Petley at Britain's University of Sheffield, told AFP.

Immediate action, "very expensive if done properly," was needed to contain the pollution, he said, adding: "There is a lot of waste in the river. There is a risk that this now moves downstream in floods, or that toxins that it releases might move."

While Brumadinho is now considered Brazil's worst-ever industrial accident, given its high likely final death toll, a similar mining dam collapse three years earlier in the same region, near the town of Mariana, remains the country's worst environmental disaster. Its effects are still being measured today.

0:00
Moment of dam collapse in Brazil released on video
Moment of dam collapse in Brazil released on video

The dam near Mariana was part of a facility jointly owned by Vale. Nineteen people were killed. Pollution extended for  650 kilometers (400 miles) along a river, to the Atlantic Ocean.

The 60 million tons of waste it released were more than four times greater than the 13 million tons held back by the Brumadinho dam. Whole ecosystems affected by the Mariana sludge were killed off.

Both disasters resulted from ruptures of tailings dams -- reservoirs of detritus left over from the process of extracting iron ore. Such dams are the cheapest ways to store mining waste, but also the riskiest, as the two successive disasters showed.

Petley said it was to be hoped that measures to contain pollution were better now, but added that both disasters were "scandalous failures."

Additional reporting by AFP

Source AP - SBS

Topics:

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch