RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb. 5 — Rescue workers in Brazil have so far recovered 134 bodies from the mudslide of toxic mining waste released after a tailings dam burst late last month, officials said on Monday.
The latest death toll is more than three times higher than the initial 40 victims reported when the dam owned by mining giant Vale collapsed on Jan. 25 in the rural town of Brumadinho, in southeast Minas Gerais state.
The number of fatalities is likely to reach a minimum of 300 as nearly 200 people remain missing.
Fire department spokesperson Pedro Aihara told the press some bodies may never be recovered from under the mud, which was reportedly up to 15 meters deep in some areas.
Brazil’s civil defense agency said 120 of the bodies have so far been identified.
Rescue efforts are ongoing, but have been interrupted at least twice — on Sunday due to possible rain, and due to fears of another Vale-owned dam bursting a week ago.
Rescue workers were set to bring in heavy excavation machinery on Monday afternoon to speed up the efforts to locate the victims.
Most of the victims were Vale employees, about 100 of which were having lunch in the company cafeteria when the sea of mud swept the building away.
So far, five people have been arrested for their role in validating the safety of the dam.