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Brazilian President Rousseff blames mining companies for dam rupture

Brazil's president has put the blame for last week's dam rupture in southeastern Brazil on the mining companies. The death toll is likely to rise, as 19 people remain missing.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said the conglomerates behind the Samarco mine would be held responsible for the deadly dam ruptures at an iron ore mine that killed at least eight people on November 5.

Rousseff flew over the two burst dams at a waste collection pond at the mine that had unleashed a deadly wave of mud, as 19 people remained missing after the incident. Most of the nearby village of Bento Rodrigues was also flattened in the event.

"We are committed in the first place to blame those who are responsible. Who is responsible? A private business, Samarco, a big business that has Vale and BHP Billiton as partners," Rousseff said. The president added that several laws "were actually not followed. That is why we have imposed a preliminary fine."

Environmental impact

The Samarco iron ore mine in southeastern Brazil's Minas Gerais state is owned by Australia-based BHP Billiton, the world's number one mining company, and Brazil's Vale, the country's leading iron ore miner.

Dilma Rousseff

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff examined the damage and criticized the mining operators for reckless behavior

Brazil's environmental agency has already levied a $66 million (250 Brazilian reais) fine against Samarco. Rousseff said that other fines could likely follow. She specified that the fines, imposed by Brazil's environmental regulator for violations including river pollution and damages to urban areas where water service has been suspended, could be followed by penalties from other federal or state agencies.

Rousseff also stated that her government expected the companies to pay for all rescue and cleanup efforts, as well compensation for more than 500 people who had been displaced as their homes were destroyed.

Toxic mud has poured into the Doce River since the incident, where it devastated wildlife and continued to threaten drinking water access for hundreds of thousands and possibly widening the circle of those affected.

CEOs react to tragedy

Andrew Mackenzie, CEO of BHP Billiton, and Murilo Ferreira, CEO of Vale, have made their own visits, following growing criticism in the Brazilian media, particularly regarding Ferreira's low profile since the accident.

The two CEOs said in a statement that they were helping Samarco to create an emergency fund for reconstruction and for victims, adding that it was their intention to work with the authorities "to get this fund functioning as soon as practicable."

They added that BHP and Vale had also provided experts in health, security and the environment.

ss/blc (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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