Rescuers scoured the area, searching for signs of life but braced for the reality that they’d be recovering corpses. No one had been rescued alive since Saturday. Roughly 100 people have been confirmed dead.
Photographic images of the area showed the destruction, in all of its indiscriminate vastness.
There was a huge mass of sludge that buried a cafeteria where hundreds of workers from the Vale mining company were believed to have been eating when tragedy struck. Railroad bridges were washed away. Cars were partially or entirely submerged.
Relatives went to the region, many of them with garden tools, to search for missing children, spouses, parents, siblings.
The wife of a miner, Claudio Pereira Silva, who had left to go to work earlier that Friday, spoke to the BBC about how the day had begun like any other, with him saying, “God be with you,” his typical “goodbye,” as he walked out the door.
“He really liked his work,” said Sirley Goncalves, “but he was afraid that something could happen one day. We were always at meetings about safety and evacuation routes.”
Her home was somehow spared, but many of her neighbors are missing, likely under the cover of mud that turned the area into an instant graveyard.
Drying mud lies high in a house affected by the mud avalanche caused by the broken dam. (Photo by Rodney Costa/picture alliance via Getty Images)
“It’s so difficult, we loved each other so much,” she said.
Vagner Diniz, 60, was holding on to some hope Wednesday that some of his five missing family members were still alive. His list of missing was staggering: his two adult children, Luiz and Camila; his daughter-in-law Fernanda, who was five months’ pregnant; and the biological parents of Luiz, who was adopted.
It could be several days or weeks before many bodies are found, as the mud sits several yards (meters) deep. Firefighters have to be careful in spots where it is particularly mushy so as not to become trapped themselves.
The Brazilian police arrested five people, including three Vale employees, on Tuesday in connection with the collapse.
The five arrested included three Vale employees and two engineers who were employed by the Brazilian subsidiary of the German industrial testing company TÜV Süd, which inspected the dam last year, The New York Times reported. The engineers, The Times said, “attested to the stability of the dam on a recent date.”
“The families are desperate. Vale destroyed our lives,” Gonçalves told the BBC. “They must have known the dam would break. But they don’t care about their employees, they care about their money.”
A wall in the village had fresh graffiti that read, “Vale, reoffending assassin.”
Vale said in a statement it planned to install a fabric barrier to retain residue where the river reaches the city of Para de Minas, about 25 miles from Brumadinho. The company may also build levees near the Brumadinho mine in an effort to prevent sediment from moving.
On Tuesday in Brumadinho, firefighters recover a body with a chopper’s assistance. (Photo by Rodney Costa/picture alliance via Getty Images)
Vale has also been working to help victims, paying for funerals and announcing that people who lost family members would receive $27,000 in the form of a donation.
But for so many victims, angry and anguished, all they want right now is to find missing loved ones.
Francisco Adalberto Silva has been searching for son Francis Erik Soares Silva and nephew Luiz Pablo Caetano since the disaster. The two worked for a company that contracted with Vale, and were in the area of the collapse when it happened.
“I will keep coming. … I just want to give my son and nephew a dignified burial,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.