Friends and relatives attend the burial of Vale SA employee Edgar Carvalho Santos, victim of the collapsed dam in Brumadinho, Brazil, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. Officials said the death toll was expected to grow "exponentially," since no had been rescued alive since Saturday. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Arrests in Brazil dam disaster, dead fish wash up downstream

January 29, 2019 - 2:58 pm

BRUMADINHO, Brazil (AP) — Brazilian authorities arrested five people Tuesday in connection with a dam collapse that killed at least 65 people and left nearly 300 missing, and dead fish were seen downstream floating at the banks of a river that an indigenous community depends on for food and water.

The dam that held back iron-ore waste, owned and operated by big mining company Vale SA, collapsed on Friday — burying a company cafeteria, other Vale buildings and inundating part of the small southeastern city of Brumadinho.

Grieving relatives of the dead buried some of the victims in Brumadinho and rescue teams continued a delicate search through swaths of muck for more victims or survivors. One official said the death toll was sure to rise.

The dead fish and trash were seen by a reporting team for The Associated Press about 18 kilometers (11 miles) downstream from the dam along the banks of the Paraopeba River.

The Pataxo Indians living alongside the river who use it to fish, bathe and gather water for the plants they cultivate as food were told by Brazilian environmental officials that they should no longer do so, said Hayo, the village chief who goes by one name.

"We used the river to take baths, to fish, to water our plants and now we can't do any of that," said Hayo, wearing a large feathered headdress and a red and black-beaded neckless. "We can't even water our plants because they say it damages the soil."

Two agents with the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, the country's environmental enforcement agency, took water samples and talked with tribe members but said they were not authorized to speak about their findings. The agency did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

The signs of possible ecological consequences came as the arrests of company workers with links to the dam were made in Sao Paulo and in the state of Minas Gerais.

Three of the arrested worked for Vale, the company said, adding that it was cooperating with investigating authorities.

A German company that has inspected the dam said two of its employees were arrested. The Munich-based TUEV Sued company declined to specify whether the arrested staff were from its German headquarters or its Brazilian branch.

In ordering the arrests, Minas Gerais state judge Perla Saliba Brito wrote that the disaster could have been avoided.

It's not believable that "dams of such magnitude, run by one of the largest mining companies in the world, would break suddenly without any indication of vulnerability," the judge wrote in the decision, according to news portal UOL.

Authorities said the five will be detained for 30 days while officials investigate possible criminal responsibility.

At a cemetery in Brumadinho, 15 freshly dug graves awaited the remains of some of those killed.

Wailing in grief at the cemetery was the wife of Edgar Carvalho Santos, one of the mining company's workers whose body has been found.

"He did not deserve this, he did not deserve it!" she sobbed.

Friends and family members prevented reporters from approaching the woman.

One woman told Santos' wife that "this was not a tragedy, it's a crime." It was a sign of the growing anger directed at Vale over the disaster.

The company is one of Brazil's largest and a key employer in Brumadinho, but many residents have complained that a siren that should have gone off to warn people to evacuate never sounded.

Military police Col. Evandro Borges told reporters that the official death toll was 65, though more bodies had been recovered Tuesday and that an updated death toll would be provided later in the day. He said 288 people were still missing, most of them Vale employees.

Vale is the world's largest producer of the ore, which is the raw ingredient for steel.

Many employees were eating lunch last Friday when the dam collapsed, burying a cafeteria and other company buildings.

The company's American depository shares on the New York Stock Exchange were up 3 percent Tuesday afternoon on the New York Stock Exchange, to $11.54 each, after falling nearly 18 percent on Monday.

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Prengaman reported from Rio de Janeiro. Video journalist Renato Domingues and Associated Press photographer Leo Correa contributed to this report from Brumadinho.

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