MARIANA, Brazil, Nov. 6 (UPI) -- More than a dozen people might be dead after a dam holding back waste water from an iron ore mine in Brazil's Minas Gerais southeastern state burst, flooding nearby homes.
Reports indicate that up to 16 people have died and others are missing. When it burst, streams of thick red mud and debris came flooding into the small town of Bento Rodrigues, about 4 miles from the old colonial city of Mariana.
The mud wiped out cars and homes. Bento Rodrigues has a population of between 500 to 600.
Helicopters have lifted many stranded people from the area, but the rescue overall has been slowed by fears of mudslides. Authorities also warn that the sludge from the mining operations could be toxic and contaminate the river basin that provides water for the 2.5 million people in the city of Belo Horizonte.
The cause of the burst is not yet known, said a spokesman for the Samarco mining company, owners of the dam. Authorities warn the water mixed with mining residue could be toxic.
"We need rigor in determining what happened," Minas Gerais prosecutor Carlos Eduardo Ferreira Pinto told reporters. "No dam bursts by chance."
Hydroelectric power provides about 75 percent of Brazil's electricity and also is primary source of power for remote mining areas.
The Rede Record Brazilian television news network's Balanço Geral program said at least 15 people were found dead and 45 others are missing, attributing the director of a local union.