Israeli rescue workers pull bodies from the ruins in Brazil..
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A delegation of IDF and ZAKA disaster responders in southeastern Brazil has retrieved several bodies of victims who were washed away when a tailings dam broke last Friday at the Córrego do Feijão mining complex in the hilly region of Brumadinho.
So far, 65 deaths have been confirmed, according to firefighters. Another 279 employees, contractors and residents are missing and presumed dead. Some 192 people have been rescued. Aid workers say they are unlikely to find more survivors in the iron ore waste.
A delegation of about 130 IDF soldiers and officers in active service, as well as 70 reservists from the Home Front Command, among them engineering experts, doctors, search and rescue personnel and firefighters, flew to Brazil on Sunday. In addition, troops from the navy’s underwater missions unit (YALTAM 707) and members of ZAKA are on the aid mission.
Israel is the only country which sent an official delegation to help Brazil’s government in the aftermath of the mining dam disaster.
According to a ZAKA release, access to the site is possible only by helicopters provided to the delegation by the Brazilian army. IDF canine unit personnel first scanned the areas and then members of the expedition followed, working to locate the bodies buried in the muddy sludge.
“The scope of the disaster is huge,” said Haim Weingarten, ZAKA’s head of special operations.
Early on, the Israelis ran into a challenge, according to a report by Channel 13: The rescue mission brought equipment that was ill-suited for local conditions. The head of the rescue operation, Col. Eduardo Angelo, told the station that among its equipment, the Israeli team brought heat sensors to locate injured survivors. But since there were none, the hi-tech sensors were useless for locating cold, dead bodies.
While pointing out that “after 48 hours the chances [to find survivors] are almost non-existent,” he did say the Israeli team provided essential support and manpower that was greatly appreciated.
The Israelis are using other means to locate victims, including location signals from mobile devices, makeshift structures that can float on water, ropes to clear debris and evacuate remains, underwater sonar, and drones to get an aerial view of the disaster zone.
“Already on the first day of operations, we were able to identify several areas with high potential for the remains of those who would not have survived the mud slide,” said Weingarten. “There is much work for us to do here in the deep mud. The professional cooperation between all the different members of the Israeli delegation contributes significantly to the success of those working in the field.”
ZAKA chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav said the Israeli delegation is receiving “excellent feedback” from the emergency services in Brazil about the professionalism of the delegation at the disaster site.
“The Israeli delegation is well-received in the local media and shows the beautiful face of Israel,” he said.
Meanwhile, also on Tuesday, three employees of Brazilian mining company Vale SA and two other engineers working on behalf of the company were arrested, state prosecutors said, deepening a crisis for the company after another deadly disaster at one of its mines.
In a statement on Twitter, Vale said it was cooperating with investigators, who are probing a mining catastrophe that is likely to leave a death toll of more than 300 people. The tragedy has enraged many in Brazil, and raised fresh questions about Vale’s commitment to safety after a similar dam collapse at a mine it jointly owned just over three years ago. Two of Vale’s senior managers at the Córrego do Feijão mine were among those arrested, according to the local judge’s decision, seen by Reuters. The job of the third Vale employee was not immediately clear.
Two other engineers, who worked on behalf of Vale and are accused of attesting to the safety of the dam, were arrested in São Paulo, state prosecutors there said.
Minas Gerais state investigators issued a total of five arrest warrants and seven search warrants on suspicion of murder, falsification of documents, and environmental crimes, the judge’s decision showed.
Offers of recompense from Vale SA for one of the deadliest mining disasters in decades have largely fallen on deaf ears.
Chief Financial Officer Luciano Siani Pires said Vale was doing all it could, offering money to mourners, extra tax payments to local government, a special membrane to remove mud from the river and major investments to make its dams safer.
“Vale is destroying Minas Gerais,” said Robinson Passos, 52, who lost a cousin and friends in Brumadinho.
“There’s anger, sadness, everything,” he said, holding back tears as he surveyed the destruction in Córrego do Feijão, a hamlet within Brumadinho that gave its name to the mine at the center of the disaster.
Vale CFO Pires said the company will donate 100,000 reals (NIS 99,000) to each family that had lost a loved one, adding the company would continue paying mining royalties to Brumadinho despite a halt in operations there.
The company was building a membrane to stop the mud flowing down the Paraopeba River. A “bold” investment plan would also speed up the process of making dams more secure, he said.
Prosecutors and politicians have not been impressed.
On Monday, a presidential task force contemplated forcing out Vale’s management. Brazil’s top prosecutor said the company should be criminally prosecuted and executives held personally responsible.
Mines and Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque said the regulatory model for the mining industry was broken.
Hagay Hacohen contributed to this article.
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>