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Brazilian dam collapse leaves 60 confirmed dead, hundreds more missing

Wall of toxic sludge wipes through town in mining disaster

DOUGLAS MAGNO/AFP/Getty Images

First responders in Brazil are still searching for victims following a dam collapse last week, which claimed the lives of 60 people and left nearly 300 more missing and feared dead.

The town of Brumadinho was overcome by a wall of muddy mining waste, leaving officials scrambling to find out what caused the disaster — and who should be held responsible.

What are the details?

A 28-story dam, owned by iron-ore and nickel producer Vale SA, gave way Friday, releasing enough sludge to fill a football stadium six times over, according to The Wall Street Journal. The mud consumed an area hundreds of meters wide, including Vale's local offices, residential areas, and roads in the city of 37,000 people

Resident Antonia Ferreira dos Santos was barely able to flee before her home of 25 years was buried.

"I opened the gate and ran. When I stopped and looked back at where I had just been a few minutes ago, all I saw were trees and posts being knocked over," she recalled to the Journal.

"I've lost everything, everything, everything," she added.

Reuters reported that by Monday, firefighters in the state of Minas Gerais counted 60 dead in the tragedy, and were looking for nearly 300 more missing and feared dead.

Anything else?

Officials are still investigating the cause, but politicians and victims' families are largely leveling blame at Vale. The Journal reported that the state has already slapped the mining firm with a $26 million fine, the federal government imposed an additional $66 million penalty, and judges froze almost $3 billion of Vale's liquid assets to preserve funds for the cleanup and potential payouts to victims.

Vale shares dropped more than 21 percent Monday on the Sao Paulo Stock Exchange.

On a visit to assess the damage in Brumadinho over the weekend, Vale CEO Fabio Schvartsman said, "It is impossible to come here and not become emotional by the sadness of the situation and the superhuman efforts of all those assisting in this operation. For our part, Vale is putting everything it has available, all equipment and human resources, without limits."

Schvartsman vowed to increase the safety of the company's dams "beyond any standard, national or international."

Authorities in Brazil are also promising to increase mining safety measures. According to NPR's Catherine Osborn, "federal officials have pledged to make mining regulations more strict. But for many, this disaster has laid bare the difference between pledges and enforcement."

One last thing…
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