ABC Four Corners | 29 February 2016
“I ended up with nothing but the clothes I had on. I lost everything I had at home, documents, photos of my children.” Survivor
“Of course it will affect our bottom line.” Andrew Mackenzie, BHP CEO
The Melbourne headquarters of Australian mining giant BHP is a world away from the small Brazilian village of Bento Rodrigues, but what happened in this faraway place will cost BHP billions.
“The mud would come and drag me down, I would come up, it would take me down again…I screamed, calling my children, calling them, but nobody answered.” Survivor
Three months ago a horror mudslide swept through the towns and villages in the Gualaxo River Valley in Brazil, destroying homes, businesses and taking the lives of 19 people.
A tailings dam, holding back more than 50 million cubic metres of mining waste collapsed, unleashing a wave of mud several metres high. The waste in the dam came from the huge open cut Samarco iron ore mine, half owned by Australia’s BHP Billiton. Brazil’s chief environment officer calls it the biggest environmental disaster in the country’s mining history.
“This mud wave has killed anything that was alive in these water systems.” Marilene Ramos, Brazilian Environment Authority
Brazilian police have announced they will seek the arrest of six Samarco executives and managers on charges of negligent homicide, and offences against the environment.
“A dam doesn’t break by chance…There is repeated, continual negligence in the actions of a company owned by Vale and BHP.” Brazilian Prosecutor
Reporter Ben Knight arrived in Brazil within days of the dam collapse as the search for victims continued in atrocious conditions. Now in his first report for Four Corners, he returns to Brazil to investigate whether multiple warning signs were ignored. What he finds is a catalogue of failure, where even the emergency alert system didn’t work.
BHP has distanced itself from the operations of the mine, but the company’s bottom line has taken a hit. This week BHP announced a $US5.7 billion half year loss, writing off more than a billion dollars due to the dam disaster.
And in a feature interview with the BHP CEO, Ben Knight asks if BHP is making good on the promises they have made to rebuild the lives and communities affected, and what responsibility it will take for the disaster.
Catastrophic Failure, reported by Ben Knight and presented by Sarah Ferguson, goes to air on Monday 29th February at 8.30pm EDT. It is replayed on Tuesday 1st of March at 10.00am and Wednesday 2nd at 11pm. It can also be seen on ABC News 24 on Saturday at 11.00pm, ABC iview and at abc.net.au/4corners.