Brazil prepares for collapse of second mining dam this year

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Brazil prepares for collapse of second mining dam this year

In Brazil, another mining dam is in danger of collapse, the second such disaster this year. Hundreds died when a dam in the same region collapsed in January. Officials are now scrambling to prepare for this new danger. CGTN’S Paulo Cabral has details.

The mining city of Barão de Cocais in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais is facing disaster and all people can do is prepare for the worst — and hope for the best. A dam located about 12 kilometers from the city had its risk raised to the highest level, meaning collapse could be imminent.

The problem is an embankment that’s been slowly sliding into a mining pit. If it comes down suddenly, it could destabilize the dam and cause it to break. The situation is being monitored around the clock so authorities can sound the alarm to evacuate the community if necessary, as engineers say the process can’t be stopped now.

“It would have been possible to stabilize that slope,” declared mining engineer and University of Sao Paulo professor Arthur Pinto Chaves. “There are techniques and specialized companies that can do it. But it should have been done six months ago, when the first signs of problems were noticed. Now it’s too late.”

The curbs in downtown Barão de Cocais have been repainted orange as a warning that this area could be hit by the deluge if the dam at Vale Mining Company’s Gongo Seco mine collapses. Authorities and Vale officials have made extensive evacuation plans and drills, but uncertainty remains in the air.

“We are not really living our lives, we’re just waiting,” complained one local resident. “People are not even buying anything anymore.”

“There’s so much uncertainty,” said another. “We hear different things all the time. Some say the dam is about to break, others say it won’t happen. So the uncertainty is the worst thing for me.”

The mayor of Barão de Cocais believes officials in the government and the mining company are only paying attention now because of January’s dam disaster about 65 kilometers away in the city of Brumadinho, also in the state of Minas Gerais, and also controlled by Vale. More than 240 people were killed; 29 others remain missing.

“Many of our brothers in Brumadinho did not have time to escape from the disaster but in a way they have helped us because it raised the level of attention and security on mining operations,” said Mayor Decio Geraldo dos Santos. “So their death is helping to keep us safer.”

Those living inside an established security zone were evacuated back in February. This house sits just outside that perimeter, and the Pereira de Jesus family knows it must stay on guard. If the dam collapses, the mud would reach their house in about one hour, hopefully giving them enough time for them to flee.

“There is an alarm that will be sounded if there is a collapse and we have to trust that it will work, that it will not be a surprise as happened in Brumadinho,” said Ademir Pereira de Jesus. “We pray to God that the kind of disaster that happened in Brumadinho won’t happen here.”

Mining is a key economic activity in Brazil and particularly here in the state of Minas Gerais. However the risks associated with this industry have been creating tension and fear – and affecting the lives of large populations.