Brazil: A tragedy happened at an iron ore mine when a dam burst near the city of Belo Horizonte this weekend. Mudslides moved towards the nearby town of Brumadinho carrying with it an unspecified number of people. It was lunchtime, many of the workers were dining at the restaurant, and it took them by surprise. They did not get time to react and were the main casualties apart from others who were employees of the contractors.

Sky News reports an initial estimate of the loss of lives is 40 and at least 300 are missing but the figures could increase.

The majority of those missing were workers from the iron ore mine owned by Vale and rescue teams are digging through several feet of sludge to try and locate them. The survival chances of those missing are remote. President Jair Bolsonaro has described it as a "tragedy".

Reasons yet to be established

The executives from Vale confirmed 300 of its employees were on duty at the time. 100 of them are accounted for but the whereabouts of the remaining 200 is unknown. Rescue teams are digging through mounds of sludge to locate them.

They are using helicopters to pick up those trapped in the mud. Mudslides are dangerous and can destroy homes, vehicles, vegetation, and farmland. Authorities advised families living in low-lying areas to relocate to safer locations.

Reuters reported that in Brazil, a judge has frozen "$1.3 million in Vales assets" following the dam burst.

Sky News goes on to add Brazil's environmental agency Ibama said that Vale's mining activities are harmful to the environment since it pollutes the surroundings, and makes the area unfit for habitation.

The mud is full of mining waste that could contaminate the land. The region faced a similar environmental disaster in 2015 when a larger dam collapsed and took 19 lives. Vale was involved in that as well and it left thousands without drinking water.

Search operation continues

According to the BBC, the reasons for the failure of the dam built in 1976 needs to be established. Vale is Brazil's largest mining company and owns the iron ore mine. The dam burst led to the burial of the site's cafeteria where employees were having lunch. Apart from workers, some residents and guests at a local inn were also missing. Search efforts are on but lack of access to some areas is hampering rescue work. It seems there is an alarm system to warn people in case of any danger but it failed to operate. Vale president Fabio Schvartsman has explained that the suddenness of the incident must have been responsible for non-activation of the siren and related security protocols.