BRUMADINHO, Brazil -- Brazilian officials on Sunday resumed the search for hundreds of missing people in the wake of a major dam collapse, with firefighter crews returning to mud-covered areas after a pause of several hours over fears that a second dam was at risk of breach.
Authorities evacuated several neighborhoods in the southeastern city of Brumadinho that were within range of the B6 dam owned by the Brazilian mining company Vale. An estimated 24,000 people were told to get to higher ground but, by the afternoon, civil engineers said the second dam was no longer at risk.
Areas of mud appeared to be drying out, which could help firefighters get to areas previously unreachable.
"Get out searching!" a woman yelled at firefighters near a refuge set up in the center of Brumadinho. "They could be out there in the bush."
On Sunday, authorities raised the number of deaths to 58.
Even before the half-day suspension of rescue efforts, hope that loved ones had survived a giant wave of iron ore mine waste from Friday's dam collapse in the area was turning to anguish and anger. There was also mounting anger at Vale and questions about an apparent lack of an alarm system on Friday.
Caroline Steifeld, who was evacuated, said she heard warning sirens on Sunday, but no such alert came on Friday, when the first dam collapsed.
"I only heard shouting, people saying to get out. I had to run with my family to get to higher ground, but there was no siren," she said, adding that a cousin was still unaccounted for. In an email, Vale said the area has eight sirens, but "the speed in which the event happened made sounding an alarm impossible" in the dam that collapsed.
"I'm angry. There is no way I can stay calm," said Sonia Fatima da Silva, as she tried to get information about her son, who had worked at Vale for 20 years. "My hope is that they be honest. I want news, even if it's bad."
Da Silva said she last spoke to her son before he went to work Friday. She was one of scores of relatives in Brumadinho who desperately awaited word on their loved ones. Romeu Zema, the governor of Minas Gerais state, said by now most recovery efforts will entail pulling out bodies.
The flow of waste reached the nearby community of Vila Ferteco and an occupied Vale administrative office. It buried buildings to their rooftops and an extensive field of the mud cut off roads.
Some residents barely escaped.
"I saw all the mud coming down the hill, snapping the trees as it descended. It was a tremendous noise," said a tearful Simone Pedrosa, from the neighborhood of Parque Cachoeira, 5 miles from where the dam collapsed.
Pedrosa, 45, and her parents dashed to their car and drove to the highest point in the neighborhood.
"If we had gone down the other direction, we would have died," Pedrosa said.
"I cannot get that noise out of my head," she said. "It's a trauma ... I'll never forget."
In addition to the dead, 23 people were hospitalized, according to the Minas Gerais Fire Department.
The rivers of mining waste also raised fears of widespread environmental contamination and degradation.
According to Vale's website, the waste is composed mostly of sand and is nontoxic. However, a U.N. report found that the waste from a similar disaster in 2015 "contained high levels of toxic heavy metals."
Over the weekend, state courts and the justice ministry in the state of Minas Gerais froze about $3 billion from Vale assets for state emergency services and told the company to report on how it would help the victims.
Neither the company nor authorities had reported why the dam failed, but Attorney General Raquel Dodge promised to investigate it, saying "someone is definitely at fault." Dodge noted there are 600 mines in the state of Minas Gerais alone that are classified as being at risk of rupture.
Another dam administered by Vale and Australian mining company BHP Billiton collapsed in 2015 in the city of Mariana in the same state of Minas Gerais, resulting in 19 deaths and forcing hundreds from their homes.
On Twitter, new Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said his government would do everything it could to "prevent more tragedies" like Mariana and now Brumadinho.
The far-right leader campaigned on promises to jump-start Brazil's economy, in part by deregulating mining and other industries.
Environmental groups and activists said the latest spill underscored the lack of environmental regulation in Brazil, and many promised to fight any further deregulation.
Marina Silva, a former environmental minister and presidential candidate, toured the area on Sunday. She said such tragedies should be deemed "heinous crimes," and that Congress should bear part of the blame.
"All the warnings have been given. We are repeating history with this tragedy," she said.
A Section on 01/28/2019
Print Headline: Brazil restarts search after pause