Nearly 700 evacuated in Brazil over mine safety concerns

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Aerial view of mud and waste from the disaster caused by a dam spill in Brumadinho, Minas Gerais, Brazil, 26 January 2019Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Some 300 people are feared dead following last month's dam collapse in Brumadinho

About 700 people have been evacuated from towns near two dams in Brazil following safety concerns.

Mining firm Vale said it has moved 500 people living close to Gongo Soco dam in Barão de Cocais in Minas Gerais.

A further 200 near Serra Azul dam in Itatiaiuçu were moved by ArcelorMittal, which runs both dams with Vale. They are used to store waste from mining.

It follows the collapse last month of another Vale-run dam, leaving over 150 people dead and almost 200 missing.

Residents have been moved into temporary accommodation.

Vale said Brazil's National Mining Agency (ANM) had ordered the evacuations as a precaution after it was discovered that a certificate guaranteeing stable conditions had not been issued for Gongo Soco dam.

Media caption,

Brazil's mining dams: A disaster waiting to happen?

ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steelmaker, said in a statement that its evacuation was "a purely precautionary measure since the community is situated 5km [3.1m] away from the [Serra Azul] dam."

"We will try to return people to their houses as quickly as possible, even though it's not possible to say when that will be," the firm's chief executive Benjamin Baptista said in a statement.

The two companies said production at Gongo Soco mine stopped in April 2016. Serra Azul has been inactive since October 2012.

Vale said it would be decommissioning all its dams similar to the one that collapsed near Córrego do Feijão mine. It said all 10 were already inactive.

The incident in Brumadinho is Brazil's deadliest mining disaster, with around 300 people feared dead.

The dam, inactive at the time, had been used to hold back a sludge by-product from iron ore mining.

The immediate cause of the collapse is still unknown. Vale said the dam had been issued certificates vouching for its stability in June and September 2018.

Brazilian police have arrested five people as part of an investigation into the disaster. Three of those arrested were officials from Vale.