At least 80 bodies have been recovered from the Córrego de Feijão mine in the southeast of Brazil but authorities are fearful that the death toll is set to rise dramatically.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on January 31, 2019

More than 250 people are still not accounted for and are feared to be trapped deep under the toxic mud which flooded the neighbouring area when the dam failed.

Nobody has been retrieved from the site alive since Saturday 26 January and those involved in the rescue have grave fears the death toll could end up numbering up to 360 people. Israeli soldiers have joined with local crews to scour the mud for any survivors.

Rescuers dealing with mud which is up to 15 metres deep

Reports from the site mention human remains being placed in body bags before being taken away in helicopters. The area smells strongly of decomposing bodies.

The mud has spread over 12 kilometres (eight miles) and is up to 15 metres (50 feet) deep in places, making the rescue mission a laborious and dangerous process. It is also likely there are toxic mineral elements in the sludge.

The dam was linked to the Corrego do Feijao mine, which is operated by mining giant Vale.

It burst on Friday 25 January, dumping some 12 million metric cubes of mud and mining debris across a domestic area where hundreds of workers and residents were going about their day.

Anger at Vale after a second fatal dam collapse

The mining company has told the media it is cooperating with authorities and “will continue to help with investigations to find out the facts, along with its unconditional support to the affected families.”

The Brazilian Ministry for the Environment has already hit Vale with a US$58-million fine, and the local state government is pursuing the company for US$25 million. The government has moved to freeze around US$1.3 billion worth of the company’s assets. It is the world’s biggest producer of nickel and iron ore.

The company has promised to pay US$27,000 in compensation to the families of each person killed in the mudslide. The latest disaster is the second time a dam linked to Vale has burst after 19 died when its dam in Mariana it ran as a joint venture with BHP Billiton failed back in 2015. Nobody from the company was convicted for the deaths at the Mariana site.

Vale CEO Fábio Schvartsman has said the company will destroy any remaining dams which were built on the same model as the failed Brumadinho and Mariana dams.