Five years after Mariana disaster, families still await compensation

In what was the largest environmental tragedy in Brazil's history, 60 million cubic meters of toxic tailings spilled into neighborhoods and rivers

mariana dam burst
José Barbosa, like most former residents of the Bento Rodrigues district, lost everything in the 2015 tragedy. Photo: Gustavo Basso/Shutterstock

At 4:20 pm on November 5, 2015, in the small town of Mariana in Brazil’s Southeast, a failure at the Fundão dam released around 60 million cubic meters of iron ore tailings into the surrounding region. The wave of toxic sludge inundated the Gualaxo do Norte river, flowing into the major Doce River waterway and travelling some 663 kilometers to Brazil’s coast. The rupture of the dam — owned by mining company Samarco, in turn controlled by Vale and BHP Billiton — caused the death of 19 people and untold environmental, social, and economic impacts, affecting 39...

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