Brazil’s mining company collapses and a whole city disappears under mud.
Words: Natalia Branco, Subeditor: Corey Armishaw
A dam holding mining waste has broken, unleashing massive environmental consequences in the estate of Minas Gerais, Brazil. The accident occurred on the 5 November and has been classified as the biggest environmental disaster the country has ever seen. The equivalent of 24 Olympic pools of mud has been spread through the district of Bento Rodrigues, killing 11 people. 12 others are missing and over 500 houses destroyed. The mining company, Samarco, has been fined $66 million; in an official statement they declared they will release a total of $261 billion to cover all damages, including housing families and environmental recovery. Samarco was prohibited to operate due to an embargo released by the Government and will only be authorized to take actions towards the recovery of the accident.
Locals claimed the collapse of the dam felt like an earthquake. The cause of the tragedy is still uncertain. Some of the possibilities being considered include a failure in the company’s maintenance of the dam, a small quake or an explosion on a nearby mine.
The consequences are dire. The area is expected to take decades to recover. The mud reached rivers in the region that have disappeared and are now nothing but earth. Some rivers had their courses modified, bringing environmental imbalances. Many species of plants and animals were killed, with some having the possibility of becoming extinct. There is little possibility of restoration for the areas and the districts affected will likely become deserts. The city of Mariana, the main affected area is in ruins, according to specialists.
The population has been taken into hotels and houses by Samarco and the city hall has provided support to the unsheltered. The majority of the local economy was based on the jobs created by the mining company. Some locals are hoping Samarco will be able to continue operating.
Nina Deusdeth, a local business worker, describes the situation as “scary”. “Many are against the company being closed down. If the mining company leaves the city, Mariana will become a ghost town, as everyone will have to leave and look for jobs elsewhere.” Lucivana Cristina, a sales assistant, said the town relies on the jobs created by Samarco. “ Everybody is worried with what is to come. If it closes, I don’t know what we will do.”
Social media repercussion
After the release of a Facebook tool to support victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris, many Brazilians who have changed their profile picture to the French flag have been criticized. Many in the social media posted messages such as #oreporminasgerais (pray for Minas Gerais), showing disapproval of the little media coverage the disaster had as well as the huge gap between Brazilians showing solidarity for France and not Brazil.