By Lise Alves Catholic News Service
SAO PAULO (CNS) — Rescuers were still looking for at least 18 people who disappeared in the town of Bento Rodrigues Nov. 6, the day after two dams from a nearby iron ore processing plant gave way.
Officials had only confirmed two deaths by that afternoon, but residents and volunteers feared the number would rise. Water and mud swept over the rural area of one of Brazil’s most famous historic cities, Mariana, leaving a trail of destruction.
Archbishop Geraldo Lyrio Rocha of Mariana was expected to visit a sports center in the area, set up as a temporary shelter for those who lost their homes in the accident.
“There were people coming in all morning long; most of them were pretty shaken up,” Carol Vieira of the archdiocese’s communications department told CNS after visiting the center.
Vieira said several priests from nearby parishes were at the shelter aiding residents and distributing donations, which had begun to arrive. The information has been sketchy since cellphone signals are not stable in the area. Archbishop Rocha was expected to attend a news conference given by Samarco, the mining company responsible for building the dams.
“At the moment the sports center has been large enough to house those displaced, but if additional shelters are needed, the church will be here to help,” Vieira said, adding that a strategy was expected to be drawn up by state and municipal officials as well as nongovernmental and religious groups.
Local media reported authorities were concerned that the water from the dam, which is contaminated with waste residues from the iron ore processing plant, will enter one of the region’s rivers, threatening the area’s water supply.
Brazil’s National Department of Mineral Production confirmed that a magnitude-2.5 earthquake was felt in the region an hour before the dams broke.