Photos: Haunting images show the devastating effects of a toxic mud slide in Brazil by Ana Campoy

On Nov. 5, a dam at an iron ore mine in southeastern Brazil collapsed, unleashing 50 million cubic meters of waste water that flooded nearby communities and killed more than 10 people.

But the disaster didn’t end there. In the following weeks, the gunky waters funneled into the Doce River, a major waterway whose name means “sweet” in Portuguese. The sludge flowed downstream for more than 400 miles tinting the river a chocolate hue before reaching the Atlantic. Along the way, it contaminated water used by thousands of people to drink, farm, and fish.

Economic and environmental losses remain unquantified. The mud has already killed thousands of fish, likely by choking them to death with its fine sediment.

Mine owner Samarco, a joint venture between Vale and BHP Billiton, set aside one billion reais ($260 million) in an emergency fund. Green Peace says that’s nowhere near the amount needed to repair the damage.

The companies have said the waste is mainly composed of sand and does not pose any health risks.

The UN, however, said on Nov. 25 that evidence shows the sludge released by the failed dam contained “high levels of toxic heavy metals and other toxic chemicals.”

“The scale of the environmental damage is the equivalent of 20,000 Olympic swimming pools of toxic mud waste contaminating the soil, rivers and water system of an area covering over 850 kilometers,” John Knox, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, said in a statement.

The Doce River, he added, is now considered dead by scientists.

Here is a timeline of the mud’s devastating course over the past 20 days:

 

Nov. 6—The dam bursts, covering nearby towns in mud and leaving officials in the remote region scrambling to assess casualties.

Nov. 6—Officials in Bento Rodrigues, a village near the mine, scramble to assess casualties after the torrent of waste flooded the remote region. Samarco says in a statement it hasn’t determined why the dam burst or the extent of the disaster.  Reuters/Ricardo Moraes

 

A rescue worker searches for victims at Bento Rodrigues district that was covered with mud after a dam owned by Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd burst, in Mariana, Brazil, November 8, 2015. Brazilian authorities on Sunday confirmed a second death caused by a massive mudflow and flooding that swamped towns near an iron ore mine in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais. As many as 28 people are still missing after the disaster on Thursday, prompting a rescue and salvage operation involving about 500 people, many of whom are still searching, with the help of dogs and special equipment, for victims along the floodplain downstream from the dams. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes - RTS61YN

Nov. 8—Hundreds of rescue workers dig for victims in Bento Rodrigues aided by special tools and dogs. Two deaths are confirmed.  Reuters/Ricardo Moraes.

Nov. 10—The mud spreads.

Nov. 10—The mud continues to spread.  Six bodies have been found and 22 are still missing.  Reuters/Ricardo Moraes

 

Fisherman Lucimar Souza works on the rescue of fishes in the waters of the Rio Doce (Doce River) in Linhares, where, according to Brazil's environmental regulator IBAMA, is about to be flooded with mud after a dam, owned by Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd burst, Brazil, November 19, 2015. The collapse of two dams at a Brazilian mine has cut off drinking water for quarter of a million people and saturated waterways downstream with dense orange sediment that could wreck the ecosystem for years to come. Nine people were killed, 19 are still listed as missing and 500 people were displaced from their homes when the dams burst at an iron ore mine in southeastern Brazil on Nov. 5. Scientists say the sediment, which may contain chemicals used by the mine to reduce iron ore impurities, could alter the course of streams as they harden, reduce oxygen levels in the water and diminish the fertility of riverbanks and farmland where floodwater passed. According to the predictions of Brazil's environmental regulator IBAMA, the mud will touch the sea, in Espirito Santo state coast, on this Friday. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTS818F

Nov. 19—Environmentalists and fishermen downstream from the mine rush to rescue wildlife before the arrival of the liquid waste.  Protective barriers are installed on the banks of the Doce River and diggers clear a path at its mouth so the mud can exit into the ocean more quickly. Reuters/Ricardo Moraes

 

A boat is seen near the mouth of Rio Doce (Doce River), which was flooded with mud after a dam owned by Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd burst, as the river joins the sea on the coast of Espirito Santo in Regencia Village, Brazil, November 21, 2015. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX1V7YF

Nov. 21—The gunk reaches the mouth of Rio Doce in the coastal village of Regencia, a popular surfing spot some 400 miles east of Bento Rodrigues.  The collapse of the dam displaced 500 people and left a quarter of a million without running water. Reuters/Ricardo Moraes

 

Seagulls fly near the mouth of the Rio Doce (Doce River), which was flooded with mud after a dam owned by Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd burst, as the river joins the sea on the coast of Espirito Santo, in Regencia Village, Brazil, November 22, 2015. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX1V9Z1

Nov. 22—As it floods the Rio Doce, the muck sullies miles of wildlife habitat.  Scientists say the sediment it leaves behind could redraw the course of streams as it hardens, lower water oxygen levels and make the riverbanks and farmlands it touched less fertile.  Reuters/Ricardo Moraes

 

An aerial view of the Rio Doce (Doce River), which was flooded with mud after a dam owned by Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd burst, at an area where the river joins the sea on the coast of Espirito Santo in Regencia Village, Brazil, November 23, 2015. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX1VHAW

Nov. 23—The mud spills into the sea. Reuters/Ricardo Moraes

An aerial view of the Rio Doce (Doce River), (bottom) which was flooded with mud after a dam owned by Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd burst, at an area where the river joins the sea (top) on the coast of Espirito Santo in Regencia Village, Brazil, November 23, 2015. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes - RTX1VHBO

Nov. 25—The mud is still on the move and now threatens protected forest and habitat at the Abrolhos National Marine Park, according to UN.  The agency reprimands Samarco and the Brazilian government for not doing enough. “There may never be an effective remedy for victims whose loved ones and livelihoods may now lie beneath the remains of a tidal wave of toxic waste, nor for the environment which has suffered irreparable harm,” officials say in a statement. Reuters/Ricardo Moraes

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: