Brazil: Dam Workers Warned of Problems

Employees of the Brazilian mining dam that collapsed days ago allege that a leak compromised the area’s safety. The employees say that the leak happened last year and that the mine operators did not inform workers of the situation.

The disaster sent a mudslide to a cafeteria and administration building. The two buildings were destroyed and employees say that the mine operator did not relocate them after the leak last year.

The collapse, which happened on January 25, has left more than 140 people dead. Emergency teams say 194 people are still missing. Vale, which owns the mine, said shortly after the disaster that it had received declarations of conditions of stability from an inspection company.

The Guardian reports that a Vale spokeswoman said through an email that there was no leak in the dam. Days after the disaster, authorities arrested five officials, including three from the company and two others from the inspection company.

Close to 600 people were at the cafeteria and administration building when the disaster began. A video obtained by a Brazilian news station showed the moment when the mudslide began reaching the area. In the video, two vehicles are seen driving away from the mudslide.

The mudslide swept away the mining complex as well as other structures that were located nearby. Three mine workers spoke to The Guardian and said that around July 2018, repairs were done after water leaked from near the base of the dam.

Another man told the news agency that his brother, who worked at the mine and is still reported as missing, was worried about the leak and that he had even thought about leaving the job over that.

Fernando Coelho, who lost his father in the disaster, explained what happened after the leak. He said his father, who also worked at the mine with him, was called and told to return to work after the leak was spotted on the bottom of the dam.

Fernando was not there for the repairs but was told to find sand and gravel. He then followed the events in the next few hours through the radio. He explained that the supervisor discovered the mud leaking from the dam and that his father was called because he had worked with mines and dams his whole life.

Fernando said workers were brought in to fix the leak, adding that they did the repairs and said there was no problem. Fernando has spoken to state prosecutors about the leak last year.

It is the second time that Vale is involved in a dam disaster in the last three years. In November 2015, Vale and BHP Billiton were involved in another disaster that many consider as the country’s worst environmental disaster. The collapse killed many people and left hundreds without homes.

The companies later reached a settlement with the government for billions of dollars. The two have also spent billions of dollars on the clean up operation. Back in September, the report from the inspection company said that the dam was stable but recommended the company to install new water pressure monitors. Vale has said that workers were adding the new monitors on the day of the disaster. Another worker told The Guardian that they had heard of a little water leak. Authorities have opened an investigation into the disaster.