Brazil’s toxic sludge

Vanessa Barbara – The New York Times, 12/17/2015

JUST after 4 p.m. on Nov. 5, the principal’s husband ran into the school in the village of Bento Rodrigues, in southeastern Brazil, yelling that the nearby dam had burst and everybody needed to get out of the schoolhouse. Teachers and employees herded about 50 children into buses and cars. Some followed on foot. Minutes later, as the caravan made its way uphill, they saw a 32-foot-tall wave of mud sweeping over their school.

The copper-colored sludge wiped out more than just the school. It destroyed the entire village. At least 16 people have died, including two children. Three people are still missing and 631 lost their homes.

The dam had been used to store water and mineral waste from a nearby iron-ore mine. It had no alarm system and no good emergency plan or designated evacuation routes. According to the villagers, nobody was warned about the breach. “If the dam had collapsed at night, everyone would have died,” said Duarte Júnior, the mayor of the city that includes Bento Rodrigues.

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