Five People Arrested After Brazil’s Vale Dam Collapse

ÃO PAULO—Brazilian police arrested five people Tuesday in connection with the deadly collapse of a dam owned by iron-ore producer Vale SA, including employees of the mining company, as authorities moved to uncover the cause of the disaster.

The number killed by the tide of mud and mining debris that spilled from the burst dam Friday had risen to 65 by Monday evening, while nearly 300 people are still missing and feared dead.

The dam’s collapse swept away nearby offices and a lunchroom belonging to Vale and sent a river of mud smashing into parts of the small town of Brumadinho, in Minas Gerais state.

Police said two engineers working for a company hired by Vale to inspect the dam before its collapse were arrested in São Paulo.

A spokesman for TÜV SÜD, a German auditor and certification organization, said two of its workers had been arrested. They had assessed the dam in June and September of 2018. Vale has said the company gave it a clean bill of health.

TÜV’s spokesman said the company regrets the collapse of the dam and said it is collaborating with authorities. He declined further comment.

Three of Vale’s employees were detained in or near the city of Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais. Police also seized documents and other items belonging to the five detainees.

Vale said in a statement that the company is cooperating fully with investigators.

Brazil’s top prosecutor said Monday evening that she would pursue criminal charges against Vale executives. The accident slammed Vale’s shares on Monday, losing about one-fourth of their value. The shares recovered some ground Tuesday, rising about 2% in early trading.

Rescue workers continue to search for the missing, many of whom are employees of Vale who were in the company’s offices or its lunchroom when the collapse occurred.

Television news reports showed images of military firefighters wading through or clambering over a river of sludge, often using long poles to both probe the muck and keep themselves afloat.

The catastrophe came less than four years after a similar accident at a nearby dam half-owned by Vale killed 19 people and contaminated hundreds of miles of river valley with mining waste. The government at the time, headed by then-President Dilma Rousseff, was sharply criticized for its slowness in responding to the accident.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who was sworn in Jan. 1, formed a crisis cabinet within hours of the accident in Brumadinho, and ordered troops and rescue personnel to the site the same day.

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