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A Brazilian dam, owned by the country's largest mining company, collapsed on Friday

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January 27, 2019 03:41 PM

A dam in central Brazil collapsed on Friday, killing at least 37 people and leaving hundreds missing.

The 280-foot dam — owned by Brazil’s largest mining company, Vale SA — burst suddenly on Friday, causing massive damage as the city of Brumadinho, located in southeastern Brazil, was flooded with mud and water, according to the Washington Post.

According to the BBC, the incident occurred at a “tailings” dam, which typically hold mining waste.

The muddy sludge first buried Vale’s cafeteria, sweeping away employees who were eating lunch, before burying nearby buildings, vehicles and roads, the outlet reported.

As of late Saturday, officials revised the death toll from 40 to 37, according to the Post.

A spokesperson for Minas Gerais state’s Civil Defense department said 256 are still missing, 366 people have already been rescued and 23 have been hospitalized, according to ABC News.

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In a press conference on Saturday, which was translated into English by Vale, chief executive officer Fabio Schvartsman said the dam collapse “was a huge tragedy that took us completely by surprise.”

“It is important that you know that most of those affected are our employees. At the moment of the accident, there were able 300 [of] Vale’s employees and contractors working on site,” he continued, adding that “very recent” reports that certified “mine stability.”

During a television interview on Saturday, Schvartsman remarked, “I don’t know who is responsible, but you can be sure we’ll do our part,” according to Reuters.

While the cause of the collapse has yet to be determined, Brazil’s Attorney General André Mendonça believes Vale is responsible for the accident, according to the Washington Post, which also reported that Mendonça is considering filing criminal and civil charges against the company.

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Three years earlier, another Vale dam burst, killing 19 people and leaving thousands without drinking water, according to the Washington Post. At the time, it was Brazil’s worst industrial environmental disaster.

“History is repeating itself,” former environmental minister Marina Silva tweeted, according to the Post. 

Silva said it is inexcusable “that the government and the mining companies have learned nothing.”

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On Sunday, firefighters sent out an evacuation notice to 24,000 people from Brumadinho out of fear that a second dam could collapse, according to Reuters.

Although rescue efforts were suspended on Sunday morning, they resumed later in the afternoon, according to the BBC. The second dam is no longer considered at risk.

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