Dozens missing after mudslide flattens village in Brazil

Firefighters rescued 500 survivors yesterday from a torrent of mining waste that left at least 17 people dead and destroyed a village after dams burst in southeastern Brazil.

Waves of water filled with mining waste cascaded downhill as the dams burst, flooding the village in a sea of mud. The mud also flooded others far removed from the open-pit Samarco mine under joint ownership of BHP Billiton and Vale.

Firefighters searched frantically for survivors after the mudslide hit the village. The torrent ripped through the houses and left villagers clinging to their roofs.

"There was a horrible noise and we saw the mud approaching. We ran for it. It is a miracle that we are still alive," said Valeria de Souza, 20, with a baby in her arms and tears in her eyes, AFP reported.

The mudslide destroyed Bento Rodrigues, a village around 600 people near the southeastern city of Mariana in the historic mining region of Minas Gerais.

According to DeSouza, there were 17 people officially confirmed killed and 50 injured, "but more bodies have been found," said Adao Severino Junior, the fire chief in Mariana.

According to Antonio Santos, a construction worker who was at home in the village of Bento Rodrigues when the dams broke, he knew of four people who had been swept away, including two children and two adults in their 50s, Reuters reported.

According to mine operator Samarco's chief executive officer, a tremor in the vicinity of the mine might have cause the dams to burst, however, that it was too early to establish the exact cause.

According to the company, one worker died and 13 were missing.

Firefighters who had initially put the death toll at two said the count could rise as scores of people remained unaccounted for in six villages hit by floods unleashed by the successive bursting of the two dams holding waste, or iron ore tailings, from the mine.