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Hundreds Are Missing After Dam Collapses In Southern Brazil

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We turn now to southern Brazil, where a catastrophic dam collapse has left 60 people dead. Up to 300 others are missing. Catherine Osborn reports that the scale of this tragedy has outraged Brazilians.

CATHERINE OSBORN, BYLINE: Mine worker Luiz Castro was taking iron ore to a grinding machine on Friday when he heard what he says sounded like the noise of giant truck wheels exploding.

LUIZ CASTRO: (Speaking Portuguese).

OSBORN: Then he said he saw a mountain of mud descending on the building where he works.

CASTRO: (Speaking Portuguese).

OSBORN: He ran and made it out alive. After watching and hearing of the deaths of several co-workers, he faced new stress on Sunday when his neighborhood was evacuated due to the threat of a second dam collapse at the mining complex. The mine is on the outskirts of the small city of Brumadinho, population around 40,000 people, in southeastern Brazil. The panic since Friday's disaster has also left some residents outraged at the mining industry that dominates the region.

DILCE ALMEIDA: (Speaking Portuguese).

OSBORN: "It was negligence, and it was a crime," said retired clothing vendor Dilce Almeida. She spent the weekend between hospitals and emergency response centers searching for her nephew Andre. Authorities say by now, it's likely most people who disappeared in the flood of mining waste have died, believed to be buried alive. What most angers Almeida, she says, is how little the mining company, Vale, appears to have learned since a 2015 dam collapse at a mine it co-owned with multinational BHP. That killed 19 people.

Since Friday, Brazilian judges have frozen over $2.9 billion in Vale's accounts for immediate relief for victims and the environment. Still, Brazilians are predicting this kind of tragedy will continue to happen. Alexandre Alves, a disaster relief coordinator with the federal government, is overseeing his fifth dam collapse.

ALEXANDRE ALVES: (Speaking Portuguese).

OSBORN: He says risk management at Brazilian mining dams really needs to improve. Federal officials have pledged to make mining regulations more strict. But for many, this disaster has laid bare the difference between pledges and enforcement. Vale's president told press that a few months ago an audit found the dam stable. Search efforts continued overnight on Sunday. For NPR News, I'm Catherine Osborn in Brumadinho, Brazil.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BURNING PARIS'S "LET'S WATCH THE WORLD COLLAPSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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