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Friday, November 6, 2015

bursting of dam at Germano mine in Brazil kills people

BHP Billiton is an Anglo-Australian multinational mining, metals and petroleum company headquartered in Melbourne.  It is the world's largest mining company measured by 2013 revenues.  It was created  through the merger of the Australian Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited (BHP) and the Anglo–Dutch Billiton plc.

A dam that burst at an iron-ore mine in south-eastern Brazil on Thursday is thought to have killed at least 15 people, devastating a nearby town with mudslides and leaving officials in the remote region scrambling to assess casualties.Forty-five people were still missing after the disaster at the Germano mine near the town of Mariana in Minas Gerais state, a local union told the G1 news portal.The mine is operated by Samarco, a joint venture between the Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP Billiton and the Brazilian company Vale.

The chief executive of BHP, is quoted as saying in Melbourne: “Most of what happened there has been under the cloak of darkness. “At daybreak, clearly we will do an awful lot more and give you further updates.” He further added that the company would take all steps to ensure the safety of the workers and communities affected by the disaster.

According to media, video footage shows houses of a village destroyed by flood waters and clay-red mud that surged down valleys in the mountainous region. Large vehicles lay tossed on their sides.  There has been no official confirmation on the total number of dead and missing. Civil defence authorities in Mariana said they were evacuating about 600 people to higher ground from the village of Bento Rodrigues, about 7km (just over 4 miles) beneath the dam that burst, which was flooded as a result of the accident.Authorities said the flood had also reached another village further down the hill, Paracatu de Baixo, and that inhabitants there were also being evacuated.

Rescue crews continued to search the muddy waters after nightfall. Brazilian army units nearby stood ready to help the search and rescue effort.  Brazilian Minister of National Integration is planning to visit the state on Friday to provide assistance, according to a note from the presidency.Authorities said the dam was built to hold back water and residue from mining operations, a mixture that can often be toxic. The dam was holding so-called tailings, a mining waste product of metal filings, water and occasionally chemicals. It was located near the Gualaxo do Norte river, fuelling fears of potential water contamination.

The disaster comes as both Vale and BHP are battling a collapse in iron ore pricesand a wider slump in the industry. The Germano mine is a 50-50 joint venture between the world’s largest iron miner and the largest mining company.Iron ore is transported down a slurry pipe to Espirito Santo in south-eastern Brazil, where it is turned into pellets. Samarco produces around 30 million tonnes per year, according to its website.

On a different note, WSJ stated that shares in BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s biggest mining company by market value, fell by up to 5.4% Friday as investors fretted about the damage caused by a dam burst at a Brazilian iron-ore operation it jointly owns.

Mining accidents aren’t uncommon in the region. In January 2007, the collapse of a tailings dam owned by Mineração Rio PombaCataguases Ltda. resulted in catastrophic flooding that left thousands homeless in the cities of Miraí and Muriaé. But such events are a rarity for mining giant BHP, which prides itself on high safety standards. Still, in the year through June it recorded five worker fatalities, compared with none in the prior year. It said it had since implemented a new companywide safety program.

Investors feared it could shut down the mine for some time, said a Melbourne-based analyst.  The company is dual-listed in Sydney and London.

Tailpiece : Dam 999 is a 2011 3-D science fiction disaster film. The film is based on the award winning short documentary DAMs - The Lethal Water Bombs and the Banqiao dam disaster of 1975 that claimed the lives of 250,000 people in China and anticipated calamity for outdated dams in the world.  The name and theme became controversial and the State banned screening the movie here. 

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

6th June 2015.

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