Brazil: Five arrested after deadly dam disaster | News | DW | 30.01.2019
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Brazil: Five arrested after deadly dam disaster

Brazilian authorities have stepped up their investigation into a dam collapse that killed scores of people. Rescue workers have continued their search for survivors as the death toll has continued to rise.

Five people were arrested on Tuesday as part of a criminal investigation into a deadly dam rupture, Brazilian prosecutors said.

The arrested include three employees of the Vale SA mining company which owned and operated the dam and two engineers who worked for TÜV Süd, an internationally operating German service company. Two of the three Vale employees were senior managers at the Corrego do Feijao mine located near the collapsed dam, according to Reuters news agency.

The five will be detained for 30 days while officials investigate possible criminal liability, authorities said. 

Rescue crews have been searching for survivors since the dam, located near the town of Brumadinho in southeast Brazil, burst on Friday. The collapse caused a sea of mud to bury a company cafeteria and other Vale buildings as well as submerge houses and roads in the nearby town.

The death toll rose to 84 and 276 people remained unaccounted for, rescue workers said on Tuesday. The overwhelming majority of the victims were workers at the mine.

Watch video 02:02

Rescuers search for survivors after Brazil dam collapse

Indigenous people affected

The toxicity of the sludge from the dam, which held back iron-ore waste, was not yet known, but an indigenous community downstream complained that fish it relies on for food were dying.

The banks of the Paraopeda River, which turned from its normal green to dark brown after the dam disaster, have been lined with trash and dead fish. The Pataxo Indians living alongside the river have been told by Brazilian environmental officials not to use the water.

"We used the river to take baths, to fish, to water our plants and now we can't do any of that," said Hayo, the village chief, who goes by one name. "We can't even water our plants because they say it damages the soil."

The World Wildlife Foundation, an environmental group, also said that a forest area "equivalent to 125 (American) football fields" had been lost, and it was still too early to know the full ecological scope of the dam collapse.

Another Vale dam

The disaster caused Vale's share prices to drop 24 percent in Sao Paulo on Monday, though the company did experience a 2 percent resurgence on Tuesday. Brazilian media has also speculated that Vale's top executives might be replaced. 

On Monday, a presidential task force contemplated forcing out Vale's management, but senior officials pushed back on the idea on Tuesday. However, authorities have ordered that $3 billion (€2.62 billion) in Vale assets be frozen to pay for fines, compensation and employee salaries to families of the victims. 

Luciano Siani, Vale's chief financial officer, said the company was doing all it could, including offering money to mourners, extra tax payments to local government, and major investments to make its dams safer. 

Friday's dam disaster occurred roughly three years after a similar rupture of a dam that Vale co-owned with Anglo-Australian giant BHP Billiton. The 2015 rupture, which took place about 125 kilometers (78 miles) east of Brumadinho near a town called Mariana, killed 19 people in what was considered the worst environmental catastrophe ever in Brazil.

dv/se (AFP, AP Reuters)

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