RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The 28 people missing since the failure of two dams at an iron ore mine flooded a village in southeastern Brazil are unlikely to be found alive, the governor of the affected state said Sunday.
Speaking at a news conference, Minas Gerais Gov. Fernando Pimentel said it was still not known what triggered Thursday's failure of dams at the Samarco mine, which sent viscous red mud, water and debris flooding into the hamlet of Bento Rodrigues, flattening all but a handful of buildings.
The mud tide has continued to spread, causing flooding in other nearby towns, pouring into an area river and threatening the water supply of several cities in the neighboring state of Espirito Santo.
"One lost human life would be irreparable — imagine 28," Pimentel was quoted as saying by the Rio de Janeiro newspaper O Globo. "It's a disaster, a tragedy of great dimension."
One person has been confirmed dead, and 15 village residents and 13 mine workers are listed as missing, the governor and the state fire department said Sunday.
The number of missing has been in flux in recent days, with local officials saying pockets of survivors might still be holed up in isolated areas. Authorities said Saturday that 19 people were missing, a few hours after reporting 23 people unaccounted for.
The state fire department said on its Twitter feed that two additional bodies had found and sent to the coroner's office for identification. The message cautioned that "it has not been confirmed they are victims of the disaster." In a later tweet, the fire department said a third body was located in the area on Sunday and workers were working to remove it from the mud.
Helicopter searches for survivors resumed Sunday morning despite rainy conditions that have hampered rescue efforts. Emergency response officials have said the volatility of the mud, which is still wet and can act like quicksand, can put rescue workers at risk.
A team of veterinarians was rescuing animals left behind in the tragedy, the governor said.
Pimentel said that Samarco, which is jointly owned by the Brazilian mining company Vale and Australia's BHP Billiton, has provided machines to help in the search efforts and is paying for housing people whose homes were destroyed in the accident. More than 550 people have been put up in hotels in a neighboring city.
The company has insisted the mud is not toxic and does not represent a threat to human health.
Police have restricted access to the disaster zone, making it difficult for journalists to access the affected areas.