An earth-filled dam has burst in southeastern Brazil, releasing a river of sludge that has destroyed and damaged homes in Minas Gerais state. At least 34 people are dead and some 300 are still missing.
Rescue crews were working to find survivors on Saturday after a dam at the Corrego de Feijao mine in Brazil's southeast burst the day before, submerging nearby homes and roads in a sea of mud.
Authorities confirmed at least 34 fatalities Saturday afternoon and said some 300 people were still missing.
They added that 43 people had been found alive early on Saturday. However, hope of finding more survivors faded as the day went on, in part due to intermittent rains that complicated rescue efforts.
"Unfortunately, at this point, the chances of finding survivors are minimal. We're likely to just be recovering bodies," Romeu Zema, governor of the state of Minas Gerais, told local media.
Among the missing are up to 200 residents of the rural area of Brumadinho, where the mine was located, as well as about 100 employees of mine operator Vale SA who were having lunch in the dam's administrative area when the structure burst.
Television footage shared by news outlets after the disaster on Friday showed firefighters pulling survivors from the mud and homes inundated by the torrent of sludge.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said that he had deployed three of his Cabinet ministers to the site.
"Our biggest concern at this moment is attending to any victims of this grave tragedy," he added.
The earth-filled dam was built in 1976 in the state of Minas Gerais. According to Brazil's environmental protection agency, the barrier held 1 million cubic meters (35.3 million cubic feet) of tailings, the residue separated during mining processes.
Following the Friday breach, Vale CEO Fabio Schvartsman said that the dam had been out of use for three years and was being decommissioned. He also described the collapse as an "enormous tragedy" and said most victims were mine employees.
State prosecutors in Minas Gerais said they had obtained a court order blocking $1.33 billion (€1.16 billion) in Vale's accounts to direct towards relief efforts. Brazil's environmental protection body also slapped the company with an initial $66.5 million fine over the dam rupture.
The mine operator was already under fire over a separate dam collapse in 2015, which killed 19 people and released millions of tons of toxic waste in the same area. Vale and Australian mining company BHP had jointly managed the Mariana dam at the Samarco iron ore mine. Last year, the companies settled a multibillion civil lawsuit prompted by the incident.
cmb, nm/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)