Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian authorities have declared a state of emergency in more than 200 towns affected by a deadly mining waste spill.
The government of Minas Gerais state yesterday said the measure covered the Rio Doce river basin and all towns impacted by the avalanche of mud and waste unleashed when two dams collapsed at the Samarco iron ore mine in Mariana 12 days ago.
The torrent of yellowish muck caused an environmental catastrophe, contaminated drinking water supplies and mostly destroyed the nearby village of Bento Rodrigues, with a toll of 10 dead and 15 missing.
Samarco is a joint venture of Australia's BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining firm, and Brazil's Vale, the biggest iron ore miner.
The spill contaminated some 500 kilometres (310 miles) of river in southeastern Minas Gerais and the neighbouring state of Espirito Santo, destroying crops and killing fish, turtles and other animals.
The state of emergency, which will be in effect for 180 days, gives victims access to disaster relief funds, speeds the deployment of emergency workers and cuts through local governments' red tape for infrastructure projects and purchases of medicine.
"Through this measure, municipalities will have access to state and federal resources, both financial and humanitarian," said state emergency chief Ronilson Edelvan de Sales Caldeira.
Samarco pledged Monday to pay USD 260 million in damages as a "preliminary commitment" toward clean-up and compensation.
The courts have blocked an additional USD 78 million and the government has slapped the firm with a total of USD 67 million in fines, warning there will be more.
The final clean-up cost could top USD 1 billion, according to Deutsche Bank.