London: Survivors of mining disaster to protest at company AGM

  • Jo Siedlecka

Leticia, Maria and Fr Rodrigo at vigil site

Leticia, Maria and Fr Rodrigo at vigil site

Survivors of a massive toxic flood in Brazil will be protesting outside the Queen Elizabeth Centre in London from 9-11am on Thursday morning when the mining company responsible for the disaster hold their AGM.

Twenty people are know to have lost their lives and 941 families saw their homes and livestock disappear under an 18 metre high wave of toxic sludge on 5 November 2015 - after two tailing dams burst at an iron or mine, operated by Samarco Mineracae SA, a joint venture between Vale SA and BHP Billiton Brazil Ltd in Mariana, in the State of Minas Gerais, Brazil.

A church was among buildings engulfed in the deluge. A huge stretch of the River Doce (880 km) has been contaminated, killing all the fish, turtles and ruining the livelihoods of 1,703 fishermen.

Environmentalists say the damage to the soil and the flora and fauna in the area will take up to 100 years to rectify.

Maria, whose family had a dairy farm 70km from the mine, told ICN: "We heard a noise but we didn't know what it was. My sister called and we went to my parents who lived on lower ground. We got them out of the house 20 minutes before the mud came and completely covered it. Back in our house it was getting dark and then there was a power cut. There was also a terrible smell. My husband opened the door and saw the mud had already reached the front door. We grabbed the children, including our three year-old son who was ill with pneumonia and ran out the back door to the hilltop. When we looked behind our house was gone - under 18 metres of sludge."

Since then, Maria and 940 other families, have been put in temporary accommodation in flats, in a nearby city, and are receiving a basic food allowance - but they have lost everything and the future looks bleak.

In a statement on their website, BHP Billiton say: "Responding to the tragedy following the failure of the Fundão tailings dam at Samarco on 5 November 2015 is a priority for BHP Billiton. Our team in Brazil are focused on doing everything they can to support the response efforts, repair and maintain existing dams, rebuild communities and restore the environment impacted by the dam failure."

But campaigners say the company has done little to clean up the damage or compensate victims and instead is looking into resuming mining and building a dyke to prevent further floods.

At present they say there is no legislation in Brazil to protect people from such catastrophes and no state agency to undertake the compensation and resettlement of those affected.

Among those taking part in Thursday's demonstration will be representatives from the Franciscan Justice, Peace, Integrity of Creation and Mining, the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB) and the London Mining Network.

Watch a Youtube film of the dam break here:

Tags: MIning, BHP Billiton, BHP Billiton, Brazil, Mariana, Mining disaster, Samarco Mineracae SA, State of Minas Gerais, Vale SA

We Need Your Support

ICN aims to provide speedy and accurate news coverage of all subjects of interest to Catholics and the wider Christian community. As our audience increases - so do our costs. We need your help to continue this work.

Please support our journalism by donating today.