More than 50 people were killed and 300 others missing after a dam owned by mining company Vale burst in Brazil, unleashing a torrent of mud and iron ore waste that engulfed offices and a cafeteria where workers had been eating lunch.
Rescue teams are desperately searching for survivors of the incident, which took place in Brumadinho, in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, on Friday afternoon.
“Rescue and care of the wounded is being carried out on site by the Fire Department and Civil Defense. There is still no confirmation as to the cause of the accident,” Vale said in a statement Saturday.
As of Sunday evening, 58 people were confirmed dead, a number that was expected to rise, and dozens of others hospitalized. At least 366 people were rescued from the scene, according to civil defense officials.
According to the company’s website, approximately 250 people were still unaccounted for Saturday.
“I have no words to describe my grief, my great sadness, my disappointment, with what has just happened. It is something beyond and above anything I could have imagined. I want to express my solidarity and say that all of Vale will do whatever [is] possible and impossible to help the affected people,” Vale President Fabio Schvartsman said in a video posted on Twitter.
The catastrophe comes three years after the collapse of the larger Bento Rodrigues dam in the same state, also owned by Vale, which killed 19 people.
“Vale is a very serious company. We have made a huge effort from the point of view of making sure our dams are in the best possible condition. We use all types of technology, especially after the Mariana accident. The list of actions that have been undertaken is endless to ensure the stability and safety of those dams,” Schvartsman continued.
“Unfortunately, this breach happened. This is inexcusable, but even so, I still apologize to all those affected and to the whole of Brazil. And I want to say that we will do everything that is necessary to address this issue in the correct way.”
President Jair Bolsonaro called the incident a “tragedy.”
In a series of tweets Saturday morning, he announced a coordinated effort to “monitor the actions of relief, assistance, reestablishment of affected essential services, ecosystem recovery and reconstruction.”
Environmental activists are concerned that the torrent of mining waste could lead to widespread contamination.
The Bento Rodrigues dam disaster has been called the worst environmental disaster in Brazil’s history, releasing 50 million tons of iron ore waste that United Nations experts said contained “high levels of toxic heavy metals and other toxic chemicals.”
“This new disaster with a mining waste tailings dam — this time in Brumadinho — is the sad consequence of a lesson not learnt by the Brazilian state and mining companies,” said Greenpeace’s Brazil division in a statement.
“Cases like these are not accidents but environmental crimes that should be investigated, punished and repaired.”