MARIANA, BRAZIL – As despair turns to anger over a deadly dam burst at a Brazilian mine, lawmakers pushed on Tuesday for tougher regulations in a new mining code and iron ore giant Vale SA came under pressure to help mourning families and contain the environmental impact.
In five days of rescue efforts in towns ravaged by the massive mudflow, six bodies have been found and 22 people are still missing, making it one of the worst mining disasters in Brazil’s history.
The tragedy in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais has displaced hundreds of residents, triggered investigations by prosecutors and spurred calls for stricter oversight of the mining industry, a huge provider of jobs and government tax receipts in the mineral-rich state.
The chief sponsor of a new mining code in Congress, Leonardo Quintão, told Reuters on Tuesday that he planned to add measures to tighten regulation of tailings dams like the two that collapsed on Thursday, which hold back waste water from processing iron ore.
Minas Gerais Governor Fernando Pimentel acknowledged state mining regulations are not enough to effectively supervise such operations and his aides said they may need to rethink their efforts to fast-track licensing.
The insurance industry is also coming to grips with the disaster, which could trigger up to $600 million in claims, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.
Yet the nearly 600 residents who fled Bento Rodrigues, a poor village in the shadow of the dams that was nearly erased by mudslides, worry they will never return home.
“Nobody wanted to leave there. It was such a nice life. And now it’s been taken away from us. It’s theirs now,” said Eliana Santos, 32, referring to the mine operator Samarco, where she worked as a contractor.
Public criticism fell first on Samarco but the spotlight has quickly turned to the big names behind the 50-50 joint venture: Australia-based BHP Billiton Ltd, the world’s largest mining company, and Brazilian partner Vale, the biggest iron ore miner.
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