What looks like a quiet field in a tropical landscape soon becomes a disaster area. A video made public by Brazilian television shows the exact moment when a dam at Vale’s (NYSE:VALE) Córrego do Feijão mining complex burst and covered with mud neighbouring buildings in Brumadinho.
The accident, which took place on January 25, killed over 100 people and forced dozens out of their homes. Rescue teams say that about 260 people have been reported missing.
Córrego do Feijão is located in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais and prior to the disaster, the closest town to the iron ore operation was said to have a population of 39,000 people.
The dam contained tailings and it released a river of sludge. According to official information, warning sirens were not immediately triggered. However, the company said that such response was normal given “the speed at which the event unfolded.”
As the South American giant is dealing with this issue, another dam near Brumadinho has been showing signs of imminent rupture, something that is terrifying locals.
This is not the first time that people see an accident of such magnitude in Minas Gerais. Back in 2015, a dam containing mine waste from iron pellets operation failed at BHP and Vale’s joint venture Samarco. The incident killed 19 people and left a trail of destruction for hundreds of kilometres across different states.
So this is what Vale calls a ‘leak’.
What staggers me looking at the video of the tragic failure is this: the dam fails rapidly as the wall “liquefies”, but the material in the dam is not collapsing. One would expect that the wall material should be more competent than the waste material deposited there. This is incomprehensible as an “engineered” solution; it needs investigation.