Latin America & Caribbean

Brazil dam burst engulfs homes in Minas Gerais

Media captionRivers of thick red mud surged down the valleys as Julia Carneiro reports

More than a dozen people are feared dead after a dam holding back waste water from an iron ore mine in Brazil burst, flooding nearby homes.

Officials in south-eastern Minas Gerais state say one person is confirmed dead. But there are reports that up to 16 have died and others are missing.

Rivers of thick red mud surged down the valleys of the hilly area outside the old colonial city of Mariana.

It engulfed cars and lorries, and destroyed homes.

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Survivors sit at the edge of a road after a dam burst near the village of Bento Rodrigues

Authorities in Mariana said the dam had ruptured on Thursday afternoon and sent torrents of mud and debris into the small town of Bento Rodrigues, about 7km (four miles) away.

The BBC's Julia Dias Carneiro in Rio de Janeiro said the area affected is home to about 500 people.

The rescue operation has been hampered by fears of landslides but helicopters have taken several stranded people to safety, she adds.

Authorities have warned that the water mixed with residue from mining operations could be toxic.

A spokesman for the Samarco mining company, which owns the dam, said the cause of the breach was not yet known.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Hundreds of people live in the affected area
Image copyright European Photopress Agency
Image caption Some of those stranded had to be rescued by helicopter