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1 Dead, at Least 24 Still Missing After Brazil Dams Burst


A helicopter flies over the Bento Rodrigues district, covered with mud after a dam owned by Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd burst in Mariana, Brazil, Nov. 6, 2015.

The search for more than 20 people missing after a dam break buried the tiny Brazilian village of Bento Rodrigues in mining waste was suspended for the night late Saturday.

One death was confirmed and at least 24 workers and residents of several small towns were missing. Only about 600 people live in Bento Rodrigues, in Brazil's central Minas Gerais state.

A reservoir holding tons of iron ore waste burst Thursday, followed by a second dam holding water. A huge river of mud and sludge poured downhill, wiping out Bento Rodrigues and flooding other towns.

Residents of Bento Rodrigues said a deafening clap was the only hint they got that the sea of viscous, clay-red mud was about to hit.

The mine that was the source of the dam burst belongs to Samarco, which assured residents that the sludge is not toxic. Environmental officials will conduct tests, however.

Samarco said mine operators detected a tremor shortly before the dam burst, but an exact cause of the disaster is unclear.

Hundreds seek shelter

Since Friday, hundreds of people have taken shelter in a gym in Mariana as donations of food, clothing and mattresses pour in. Many of the survivors have injuries to their feet, from fleeing their houses barefoot and trekking through the devastated terrain and then onto scorching asphalt.

The public prosecutor's office has said it may file criminal charges against Samarco, which is jointly owned by the Brazilian mining company Vale and Australia's BHP Billiton, over the facility's lack of an emergency siren.

But Samarco CEO Ricardo Vescovi said that as far as he knows Brazilian law doesn't require an emergency alarm for dam failures and that authorities had approved the company's emergency response plan.

The mayor's office in Mariana said Samarco officials assured them the mining company would pay for the damages, but did not provide details.

Some information for this report came from AP.