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 municipalities across two Brazilian states.
The largest environmental tragedy in Brazil’s history, the Mariana dam collapse did not just cause human casualties. Communities and plantations were swallowed up by the mud, and the Doce River basin is still largely dead, five years on.