Death toll rises to 121 in Brazil dam disaster, 226 still missing

Residents attend an ecumenical service in memory of victims of a collapsed tailings dam owned by Brazilian mining company Vale SA in Brumadinho Brazil

The emergency service for the state of Minas Gerais, where the January 25 disaster occurred near the town of Brumadinho, said the search was ongoing for bodies.

Helicopters hover over an iron ore mining complex to release thousands of flower petals paying homage to the 110 victims killed and 238 who are still missing after a mining dam collapsed there a week ago, in Brumadinho, Brazil, Feb. 1, 2019.

Harrowing CCTV footage obtained by Brazilian channel TV Globo shows the exact moment of the shocking collapse that unleashed a powerful torrent of sludge, destroying everything in its path and washing away roads, buildings, and villages.

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The company that owns the ore mine, Vale SA, has been ordered to pay a fine of 250 million reals (US$66.32 million) for various violations that led to the collapse - one of the biggest environmental penalties in Brazil's history.

Hildebrando Neto, Minas Gerais' deputy minister for environmental regulations, told Reuters late on Thursday that all evidence suggests that the burst was caused by liquefaction, whereby a solid material such as sand loses strength and stiffness and behaves more like a liquid. "Vale described the study as a routine disaster preparation plan required by regulators".

The study envisaged that sirens would alert workers if the dam burst. The sledge caused by the dam collapse tracked straight for Vale's cafeteria, where numerous workers were eating lunch.

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Aihara said rescue teams were focusing on an area believed to have been occupied by a locker room used by employees of mining company Vale SA.

Vale's assets were frozen amidst calls that they are to blame for the dam failure, and the Mayor of Brumadinho called the company "careless and incompetent" following the tragedy.

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