The pathways from mining to muck

November 25, 2015

Source: Brasil de Fato
By Joana Tavares, From Mariana in Minas Gerais state  
Translated by Judith Marshall

The rupture of the tailings dams in Mariana is being classified as the worst disaster in the mining sector in Brazil. It is not yet possible to measure the impacts of the flooding.


Plantations and animal pens were razed in the rural area of Barra Longa | Credit: Joana Tavares

In Lower Paracatu, a small district in Mariana, in the Central Region of Minas Gerais, almost all of the houses, the school, the bars, the shops, the church and the town square are covered or buried in muck.  It arrived three hours after the ruptures in the tailings ponds at Fundão and Santarém, belonging to Samarco mining company, in the Bento Rodrigues district, also in Mariana.

Two weeks after the terror began, the community looks like a war zone: the spaces that used to be streets  – now slippery tracks of heavy muck – are deserted.  Abandoned dogs roam about in search of clean wat.  There are a few trucks and scoop shovels that are slowly removing some of the er refuse. The few men at work are from one of the companies sub-contracted by Samarco such as Integral. The majority of the workers who were in the mine when the tailings dams ruptured were also employed by Integral.

In front of a house that was both imposing and impeccably clean, without a trace of muck, there were four workers, equally clean, engaged in tending the plants.  Not one of them was willing to identify himself or talk to the reporter – “Samarco itself  is the only one to be talking” according to one  – but in the end the workers let slip that the house was a country residence owned by a Diretor of Vale, the company that owns 50% of the shares of Samarco,  as part of a joint venture with another mining giant, BHP Billiton.

The Director, however, is not there.  Also absent are the the Fire Department Rescue Team, the Military Police and Social Welfare.  Not a single representative from  local or state government is present to accompany in any way the work being carried out by the Integral employees or to converse with the few people who still remain in the small ghost town.

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