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A second mining dam threatens to collapse in Brazil
[BRUMADINHO, Brazil] Two days after a torrent of mud pouring from a ruptured mining dam left at least 58 dead and 305 missing in the Brazilian town of Brumadinho, residents had to evacuate Sunday as a second dam threatened to collapse, sparking panic and outrage at what residents called a lack of accountability for Brazil's powerful mining industry.
Sirens sounded before dawn, set off by heavy rains and dangerously high water levels at a dam at an iron ore complex owned by the Brazilian mining giant Vale S.A. Rescue workers looking for survivors from Friday's disaster turned instead to evacuating residents to higher ground.
By the end of the day, residents were allowed to return to their homes. But for many Brazilians, this latest warning was further evidence that the system regulating the mining industry is broken, risking people's lives and endangering the environment.
Still, few expect the rules to tighten under Brazil's new president, Jair Bolsonaro, who promised during his campaign that he would restrict fines and ease regulations on mining and other industries that exploit natural resources.
There are more than 400 mining dams like the one that broke in Brumadinho in the state of Minas Gerais, the hub of Brazil's mining industry. Three years ago, another such mining dam burst in the city of Mariana, 75 miles away, killing 19 people and unleashing one of the worst environmental disasters in Brazilian history. That dam was jointly owned by Vale and the Anglo-Australian mining company BHP.
Some of the dams have been deemed "unstable" but have continued operating for years, said Bruno Milanez, a professor of industrial engineering at the Federal University of Juiz de Fora. What is frightening, he said, is that the dams that broke — in Mariana and Brumadinho — were certified as "stable."
One of the few concrete changes made after the Mariana disaster in 2015 was a requirement that mining companies install alarms in communities at risk from dam breaks.
Although the sirens blared ahead of the evacuation on Sunday, residents of Brumadinho said there was no warning ahead of the lethal torrent on Friday.