In Brazil, 5 arrested in dam collapse of mining giant Vale; nearly 300 still missing

A worker digs graves Tuesday for victims of Friday's collapse of a waste dam in southeastern Brazil.
A worker digs graves Tuesday for victims of Friday’s collapse of a waste dam in southeastern Brazil.
(Mauro Pimentel / AFP/Getty Images)

Brazilian authorities arrested five people Tuesday in connection with a dam collapse that killed at least 65 people and left nearly 300 missing as it plastered part of a small city with reddish-brown mud and iron ore mining waste.

The arrests were made in Sao Paulo and in the state of Minas Gerais, where the collapse happened Friday. They came as rescue crews began a fifth day searching for survivors or bodies, and as some families began burying their dead.

Three of the arrested worked for Vale SA, the mining company that owned and operated the waste dam that collapsed, according to the company. In a statement, Vale said it was cooperating with authorities in the investigation.


A German company that had inspected the dam said two of its employees were arrested. The Munich-based company Sued declined to specify whether the arrested staff were from its German headquarters or its Brazilian branch.

In ordering the arrests, Minas Gerais Judge Perla Saliba Brito wrote that the disaster could have been avoided.

It’s not believable that “dams of such magnitude, run by one of the largest mining companies in the world, would break suddenly without any indication of vulnerability,” the judge wrote in the decision, according to news portal UOL.

Authorities said the five would be detained for 30 days while officials investigated possible criminal responsibility.

Friends and family attend the burial of a mine employee killed in the dam collapse.
(Andre Penner / Associated Press)

Meanwhile Tuesday, at a cemetery in the small Brazilian city of Brumadinho, 15 freshly dug graves awaited the remains of some of those killed.


Wailing in grief at the cemetery was the wife of Edgar Carvalho Santos, one of the mining company’s workers whose body has been found.

“He did not deserve this, he did not deserve it!” she sobbed.

Friends and relatives prevented reporters from approaching the woman.

One woman told Santos’ wife that “this was not a tragedy, it’s a crime.” It was a sign of the growing anger at Vale over the disaster.

The company is one of Brazil’s largest and a key employer in Brumadinho. Many residents have complained that a siren that should have gone off to warn people to evacuate never sounded.

Military police Col. Evandro Borges told reporters the official death toll was 65 but that more bodies had been recovered Tuesday and an updated death toll would be provided later in the day. He said 288 people were still missing, most of them Vale employees.

The dam was part of an iron ore production complex. Vale is the world’s largest producer of the ore, which is the raw ingredient for steel.

Many employees were eating lunch Friday when the dam collapsed, burying a cafeteria and other company buildings.