Brazilian rescuers were searching for some 200 missing people after a tailings dam burst on Friday at an iron ore mine owned by Vale SA, with seven bodies recovered but the death toll expected to rise sharply. Authorities said Friday that 427 people had been in the iron mine when the dam burst.
Torrents of reddish-brown sludge poured out of the dam at the Corrego do Feijao mine, owned by the Brazilian mining giant Vale, at lunchtime on Friday.
Frantic family members of the missing crowded into a warehouse set up by Vale for those affected, next to a stretch of river now demolished by the sludge.
Almost a full day since the disaster happened, finding many more survivors was looking increasingly unlikely.
"From now, the odds are minimal (to find more people alive) and it is most likely we will recover only bodies", Zema told reporters late Friday.
Vale, the company that operates the dame, is the country's largest mining company, according to The Associated Press.
US-listed shares of Vale fell as much as 10% following the incident.
The grim images were taken by spotters on one of the dozen or so helicopters that flew over the area to survey the disaster zone and aid the rescue teams. However, accessing the bus buried in yards (meters) of mud was proving hard.
A road is blocked after a dam collapsed near Brumadinho, Brazil, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019.
An official dealing with environmental issues in Minas Gerais state, where the dam collapse happened, told AFP the state was preparing another fine.
Officials urged the residents in the low-lying areas of the town of Brumadinho to evacuate.
The company was involved in a similar dam collapse in 2015 at another mine it operated elsewhere in Minas Gerais in conjunction with Anglo-Australian company BHP.
That was considered the worst environmental disaster in Brazilian history, with 60 million cubic meters of waste flooding rivers and eventually reaching the Atlantic Ocean.
"The first information indicates that the tailings has reached the companies administrative area and part of the Vila Ferteco community", it said.
Mr Schvartsman called the dam break "a human tragedy, because we're talking about probably a large number of victims - we don't know how many but we know it will be a high number".
A state judge ordered Vale to freeze 1 billion reais ($350 million Cdn) in its accounts, to be held against damages caused by the dam rupture.
Brazil's new right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro will visit the region on Saturday, his chief spokesman said.
The dam belonged to Brazil's biggest mining company Vale, which confirmed its collapse and said "the total priority is to protect the lives of employees and inhabitants".
"History repeats itself", tweeted Marina Silva, a former environmental minister and three-time presidential candidate.