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Hundreds missing in Brazil after Vale tailings dam breaks, area evacuated

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By Reuters
Hundreds missing in Brazil after Vale tailings dam breaks, area evacuated
Rescue crew work in a dam owned by Brazilian miner Vale SA that burst, in Brumadinho, Brazil January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Washington Alves   -   Copyright  WASHINGTON ALVES(Reuters)

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Police and firemen were searching for about 200 people missing after a tailings dam burst on Friday at an iron ore mine owned by Brazilian miner Vale SA <VALE3.SA> in southwestern Minas Gerais state.

Among those missing were 100 employees who were having lunch in the dam’s administrative area when a torrent of sludge and water hit it, fire brigade spokesman Lieutenant Pedro Aihara said. There was no immediate word of fatalities.

“Our main worry now is to quickly find out where the missing people are,” Aihara said on GloboNews cable television channel. He said two lower dams gave way after the bigger one burst.

Scores of people were trapped in nearby areas flooded by the river of sludge released by the dam failure.

U.S.-listed shares of Vale tumbled as much as 10 percent after the incident, the second major accident at a tailings dam in Minas Gerais in the past three years.

The iron ore mining region is still recovering from the collapse of a larger dam in 2015 that killed 19 people. That dam, owned by the Samarco Mineracao SA venture between Vale and BHP Billiton <BHP.AX>, buried local homes in Brazil’s worst environmental disaster.

The mud from Friday’s dam burst also hit parts of the local community Vila Forteco, near the town of Brumadinho, authorities said. Families have been told to evacuate homes in low-lying areas, they said.

Helicopters plucked people covered in mud from the disaster area, including a woman with a fractured hip who was among eight injured people taken to hospital, officials said.

Television reports showed people running away as the dam broke and nearby fields with bean crops destroyed by packed mud.

Aihara said the torrent of mud stopped just short of the local Paraopeba river, a tributary of the Brazil’s longest river, the Sao Francisco.

(Additional reporting by Marta Nogueira in Rio de Janeiro, Ricardo Brito, Jake Spring and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Editing by Daniel Flynn, David Gregorio and Sonya Hepinstall)