By Gram Slattery
BRUMADINHO, Brazil (Reuters) – Residents of the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais reacted with indifference and in many cases anger at a series of measures miner Vale SA has pledged to adopt following last week’s dam burst that almost certainly killed over 300 people.
“Too Late” read the newspaper of record here, O Estado de Minas, after Vale, the world’s largest iron ore miner, said it would take up to 10 percent of its production offline and spend 5 billion reais ($1.36 billion) to decommission 10 dams like the one that collapsed at its Corrego do Feijao mine last Friday.
With some 99 people confirmed dead and another 250 missing, according to firefighters, the tailings dam collapse in the town of Brumadinho may be Brazil’s deadliest-ever mine disaster. In recent days, Vale has vowed to keep paying taxes on the paralyzed mine and donate 100,000 reais to the family of each victim.
For some people mourning loved ones, those pledges looked derisory.
“It’s shameful for Vale,” said Dilson Menezes de Oliveira, 58, who stood looking at the spot where his 32-year-old cousin lies buried after the inn where he was staying at was engulfed by a wave of mud and toxic waste.
“So many innocent people died. And now this compensation of 100,000 reais. It’s nothing.”
On Thursday, Brazil’s Minas Gerais state labor prosecutors’ office said it had frozen more than 800 million reais ($219 million) of Vale’s funds as compensation for victims.
Residents near the site are likely to suffer the repercussions of the collapse for a while longer.
Minas Gerais’ state government said on Thursday that initial tests of the Paraopeba River, which was contaminated by the toxic mud, indicated that “the water of this body poses risks to human and animal health.”
It added that locals should not use Paraopeba River water for any purpose.
Among residents, many of whom are still in shock, the bad news lingered longer than Vale’s promises to set things right.
At the local union on a side street in the devastated town of Brumadinho, one union official still had not heard of Vale’s plan, while another said it was an issue on the back burner.
“Honestly, we’re just absorbing what happened,” said Neftali Goncalves da Silva, the union’s vice president. “Vale will come here and we’ll talk, but for now we’re just recovering.”
On Wednesday, United Nations human rights experts urged an official investigation into the incident. Federal and state prosecutors have already said they are a seeking to make the matter a criminal case.
Along the massive mudslide that was once part of the hamlet of Corrego do Feijao, from which the mine takes its name, residents concentrated on trying to put their lives back in order.
“The focus of everything is looking for my brother,” said Pedro Ferreira dos Santos, as he dug into the dirt, looking for his sibling’s body.
“My greatest desire is that he be found.”
In another setback for Vale, the city of Mangaratiba, in Rio de Janeiro, has temporarily shuttered the company’s Ilha Guaíba (TIG) iron ore terminal, CBN radio reported on Thursday. According to the report, Vale was also fined 20 million reais for failing to submit environmental licenses.
(Reporting by Gram Slattery; Additional reporting by Leanardo Benassatto; Editing by Christian Plumb, Lisa Shumaker and Frances Kerry)