A state of emergency has been declared in more than 549 Brazilian cities due to severe floods that have hit the country in recent weeks. Dozens of people have died and more than 133,000 have been forced to evacuate their homes. In addition, a state of emergency has been declared in 200 towns in the state of Rio Grande do Sul due to drought.
The states of Minas Gerais and Bahia were the hardest hit by the floods, with 341 cities and 175 municipalities under a state of emergency.
Minas Gerais is home to the three most at-risk tailings dams, further adding to the trauma in a region that has experienced two catastrophic dam collapses since 20151.
The state has reported at least 15 fatalities in the past few days, including 10 in Cañón de Furnas.2 More than 55,0000 people were affected and 28,000 were forced to evacuate, the state Civil Defense reported.
Although the state of Minas Gerais has experienced periods of heavy rainfall since October 2021 (the beginning of the rainy season), the situation worsened around December 22, when severe flooding occurred in 13 municipalities.3
According to the Brazilian mining agency, 36 mine dams in the state are in a state of emergency. On Saturday, January 8, a dam at an iron ore mine in Nova Lima burst, causing two days of traffic delays on a major highway.4
Authorities in the state of Para de Minas monitored the Carioca hydroelectric dam in case it burst.
A video surfaced online showing the Pau Branco landslide on Jan. 8, 2022, overflowing the dam immediately downstream.5
“At the beginning of the video, you can see that the rains were heavy and the dam was overflowing, with water cascading down the spillway on the far side,” noted Dr. Dave Petley of The Landslide Blog.
“When the landslide becomes visible on the left side of the frame, the displacement wave crosses the lagoon and causes the initial tipping. It quickly develops as the volume of the lagoon fills with landslide debris. Initially, most of the overturning is water from the lagoon, and this is reflected in the video from the road below the dam.”
Meanwhile, 200 towns in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul are in a drought emergency.