The bodies of seven people were found Friday hours after a dam burst at a Brazilian iron mine and caused severe flooding in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais, according to the local government in the city of Brumadinho.
None of the seven victims has been identified. Nine people were rescued from the torrent of mud unleashed by the dam burst, according to a statement from the Minas Gerais state government. The statement said that Vale, the company managing the iron mine, informed the local government that 427 people had been at the site at the time of the accident; 279 have been rescued and about 150 are missing.
Approximately 100 rescuers are on the scene, and their numbers will be doubled on Saturday morning. Dozens of helicopters are in use to search for survivors, according to the statement.
The mud-like mine waste from the burst, called “tailings,” is expected to take two days to reach the Retiro Baixo hydroelectric dam. Once it reaches this point, it will be possible to contain the waste, according to the Brazilian National Water Agency (ANA).
The agency said it is “monitoring the mine tailings” and “coordinating actions” to supply quality water to the affected region.
The Retiro Baixo dam is 135 miles (220 kilometers) from the site of the Brumadinho dam burst, according to ANA.
The Feijao mine is managed by Brazilian mining giant Vale, which said it suffered a “breach,” causing mining debris to spill into the mine’s administrative area where employees were working.
Fabio Schvartsman, Vale president, said he felt “great regret” about the incident.
“I ask for forgiveness from all those affected and all of Brazilian society,” Schvartsman said in a video distributed by the mining company and carried on the local Globo news network.
Vale’s press department said a triage area had been set up in a nearby football field for victims to receive medical treatment. The statement said more than 50 firefighters and six aircraft had been deployed there.
Schvartsman said the company put an “immense effort” into improving its dams, especially after a similar mining disaster in 2015 in the city of Mariana.
“Unfortunately, the dam break (today) happened. This is inexcusable,” Schvartsman said, adding the company will “do all possible” to aid victims.
“What just happened just now is beyond anything that I could imagine,” he said.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro posted a series of tweets to his official Twitter account, saying the government’s “main concern at this moment is to tend to the potential victims of this horrific tragedy.”
Bolsonaro said in a statement Friday he and the defense minister will fly over the region where the dam burst.
“We will fly over the region so that we can once again reevaluate the damage and take the appropriate measures to lessen the suffering of the family members of possible victims,” Bolsonaro said.
Presidential spokesman Otavio do Rego Barros said “teams from the National Center for Risk and Disaster Management are in permanent contact with representatives of the city and state government to guide the first rescue actions to the possible victims and other emergency needs.”
It is not clear yet whether Bolsonaro will actually land on the ground in Brumadinho, but he does plan to hold a news conference at the Belo Horizonte airport.