BHP, Vale owners tour villages devastated by Samarco

A week after the Samarco's tailings dam collapsed sending a wall of water and mud into villages killing six and leaving 21 more unaccounted for, the CEOs for BHP Billiton and Vale toured the site.

Vale and BHP Billiton are 50/50 owners of Samarco. BHP Billiton posted a YouTube video of CEO Andrew Mackenzie making a statement after his tour.

The companies have not determined a reason for the failure. BHP Billiton broadly outlined the chain of events:

The Samarco operations include a three tiered tailings dam complex. Within this complex, the Fundão dam failed and the downstream Santarém dam has been affected. This resulted in a significant release of mine tailings, flooding the community of Bento Rodrigues and impacting other communities downstream. The third dam in the complex, the Germano dam, is being monitored by Samarco. At this time, there is no confirmation of the causes of the tailings release.

State prosecutor for the region, Carlos Eduardo Ferreira Pinto, said the companies were negligent. He has opened an investigation.

BHP Billiton issued a statement on their website after the visit:

Together with Jimmy Wilson, BHP Billiton President Iron Ore and Peter Poppinga, Vale Executive Director, Ferrous Minerals, we spent this morning on site at the Samarco mine with CEO, Ricardo Vescovi De Aragão, and meeting with community leaders.

Our immediate priority is to understand the full extent of the consequences of the tailings dam breach and how we can provide further help.

We visited the tailings dam complex, including the site of the failed Fundão dam and affected downstream Santarém dam as well as the Germano dam which is being closely-monitored by Samarco.

We also met with the Samarco incident response teams and civil authorities who have worked tirelessly to evacuate the local community and search for missing people.

On behalf of all of the employees of Vale and BHP Billiton, we offer our profound sympathies to the family, friends and loved ones of the people who died as a result of this tragic incident. We are deeply concerned for the welfare of the employees, contractors and members of the local community who are still missing. Our thoughts are with you all in this distressing and uncertain time.

We were overcome when we saw the devastation in and around Bento Rodrigues. We cannot rebuild the lives of the families who have lost loved ones but we redouble our commitment to Samarco to support the response effort.

As an immediate step, Vale and BHP Billiton pledge to support Samarco in creating an Emergency Fund for rebuilding works and to help the affected families and communities. It is our intention to work with the authorities to get this fund functioning as soon as practicable.

Vale and BHP Billiton also have health, safety, environment and geotechnical experts onsite supporting Samarco’s response. We have also had discussions with Samarco and authorities about the additional support we can provide. Investigations are continuing and Samarco will provide further updates relating to the response and operations.

Again, as joint shareholders in Samarco, we would like to offer our sympathies and prayers to the people of Minas Gerais, Espírito Santo and the people of Brazil.

Murilo Ferreira Andrew Mackenzie

Chief Executive Officer, Vale Chief Executive Officer, BHP Billiton