BHP Billiton chief executive officer Andrew Mackenzie will head to Brazil this week, after a dam collapsed at an iron-ore mine causing a mudslide that killed at least four people last week.
At least 28 people, including five children and 13 mine workers, are still missing.
The Samarco mine, a joint venture between BHP and Brazil’s Vale, includes a three-tiered tailings dam complex, a statement from BHP said.
“Within this complex, the Fundão dam failed and the downstream Santarém dam has been affected. This resulted in a significant release of mine tailings, flooding the community of Bento Rodrigues and impacting other communities downstream,” the company said.
“The third dam in the complex, the Germano dam, is being monitored by Samarco. At this time, there is no confirmation of the causes of the tailings release.”
Mr Mackenzie will go to the site to understand first-hand the human, environmental and operational impacts of the incident, while BHP Billiton has offered its full support to help the immediate rescue efforts and to assist with the investigation.
“BHP Billiton’s immediate priority is the welfare of the Samarco workforce and the local communities,” the statement said.
“Details are still emerging in relation to the Samarco employees and contractors impacted by the incident. At this stage, Samarco has advised that there is at least one confirmed fatality with a further 13 members of the workforce missing.
“The number of people in the communities impacted by the incident is yet to be confirmed, but the local authorities have reported that, at this stage there are at least 15 people from the communities unaccounted for.”
Image: AFP Christopher Simon