A town filled with pain, revolt, and hope – that’s the Brumadinho we found when we arrived here on Saturday afternoon, a day after a mining dam collapsed in this small Brazilian town causing a catastrophic mudslide.
Rescue cars rush up and down the streets. Crowds of people carry provisions, water bottle crates and other necessities.
Signs and words scrawled on walls say a lot about the atmosphere: ‘Vale is a Recidivist Murderer,’ ‘Profit is what Vale is all about’, ‘Vale Can Kill You!’
A Greenpeace team traveled to the village of Brumadinho in Minas Gerais State, to document the extent of the human and environmental tragedy caused by this disaster and help ensure transparency about what’s happening here while giving voice to those affected by it.
We’re here to strengthen the local and national movement calling for an investigation into the cause of this tragedy and reparations for the victims.
The reports of people who have lost their family, home, access to water and much more are very moving. Brumadinho is a small town. The kind of town where everyone knows everybody, which means it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t know any of the victims of the tragedy.
It’s touching to see how many people have mobilised in order to shelter and care for those affected. We were near where the dam collapsed, in Córrego dos Feijões, when local school teacher, Diego, came to help us. He has been working non-stop since Friday. First, aiding in the rescue efforts, and then managing donations and the many people who arrive in town to volunteer their help.
Diego lost students and relatives in this disaster but hasn’t been able to take a break. “I haven’t had time to even think about mourning,” he told me with a sad look in his eyes.
In Córrego dos Feijões, about 3 kilometers from Vale’s dam, I met Dona Irani, a resident who narrowly escaped the collapse. She had passed by the area just a few minutes before the sea of mud descended upon the town, destroying everything.
“After it all happened, a pain overwhelmed my heart, and I couldn’t stop crying,” she told me as she walked with her daughters and granddaughters to the house that will soon be evacuated, not knowing yet what would happen to the family afterwards.
At the time of writing, there are currently 60 confirmed deaths and more than 290 people missing. And the danger still isn’t over.
We woke up on Sunday at about 5:30 AM to sirens blaring and rescue workers yelling for the residents of lower Brumadinho to leave their homes and seek shelter in the higher parts of town. It was believed another dam had collapsed. Despite the false alarm, there is an imminent risk that dam VI – containing 3 to 4 million cubic meters of water – will collapse, destroying parts of the town not yet hit by the mudslide from the tailing dam.
The drama of the people here is far from over. For those who survived the tragedy, ongoing fear is just another feeling they have to live with.
This is not the first time industrial mining has devastated a community in Brazil. In the same way that the mountain of Pico do Cauê was mined out of existence, Córrego do Feijão has also essentially disappeared from the map. The common ground between a mountain turned into a crater and a community buried by iron ore waste is not just mining, but also greed.
The impacts of the disaster in Brumadinho are still unfolding.
The muddy sludge is likely to extend up to 220 kilometers (137 miles) from the site and could be contained at the Retiro Baixo Hydroelectric Power Plant (HPP), between the towns of Curvelo and Pompéu. If not, it could reach the São Francisco River.
Although it is not yet possible to know the total impact of the dam collapse, dead fish are being found everywhere. Vale’s mine dumps, have already reached the portion of the Paraopeba River that cuts through the Pataxó Hã-hã-hãe Indigenous Land.
To understand the magnitude of the impact and how we can mitigate it, we need to do lot of research.
I wish I was writing about something different. This is not the Brumadinho I’d like to be portraying. However, as long as there are signs of potential impunity and social injustice, we will continue to report them and demand reparations for the victims, that the guilty parties are brought to justice, and that the environment is, once and for all, protected.
Mariana Campos is a storyteller at Greenpeace Brazil. Greenpeace activists are in Brumadinho in Minas Gerais State, Brazil, documenting the tragedy and demanding justice for the people and the environment.
Translated from the original by Melissa Harkin