Israel sends rescue team, aid to Brazil following dam collapse
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Israel sends rescue team, aid to Brazil following dam collapse

Netanyahu and Bolsanoro speak by phone to coordinate assistance; Israeli mission to help search for at least 200 people missing in wake of disaster

An Israeli aid and rescue team heads to Brazil on January 27, 2019, to help with rescue efforts following the collapse of a dam in the southwest of the country, which killed at least 40 people and left at least 200 missing. (ZAKA)
An Israeli aid and rescue team heads to Brazil on January 27, 2019, to help with rescue efforts following the collapse of a dam in the southwest of the country, which killed at least 40 people and left at least 200 missing. (ZAKA)

Israel on Sunday sent aid and a 130-member rescue team to Brazil to help with rescue efforts following the collapse of a dam in the southwest of the country, which killed at least 40 people and left at least 200 missing.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday spoke with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro  and the two leaders agreed that an Israeli mission with rescue equipment would depart for Brazil within 24 hours, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

Ties between Israel and Brazil have warmed with the election of Bolsonaro, who said earlier this month that he will move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem. The Brazilian president’s confirmation of the move came after Netanyahu visited the South American country for Bolsonaro’s January 1 investiture.

Israel regularly offers aid and search and rescue help to countries both friendly and hostile, though this appeared to be the first-ever aid delegation to Brazil.

Aerial view showing firemen looking for people in heavy machinery (L and R) and a locomotive (C) after the collapse of a dam near the town of Brumadinho in southeastern Brazil, on January 25, 2019. (Douglas Magno / AFP)

Bolsonaro’s son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, who is also a politician, tweeted out his “thanks during this difficult time.”

“Israel does this because it is a friendly country. It was always around, but was always mistreated by former governments,” he wrote on Twitter. “Excuse me, but for all the bad guys on duty, you just have keep quiet and look how much good comes of this approach,” he wrote.

The dam, which held back mining waste, collapsed Friday in Brumadinho, inundating a nearby community in reddish-brown sludge. Parts of the city were evacuated and photos showed rooftops poking above an extensive field of the mud, which also cut off roads.

In addition to the 40 bodies recovered as of Saturday evening, 23 people were hospitalized, said authorities with the Minas Gerais fire department. There had been some signs of hope earlier Saturday when authorities found 43 more people alive.

About 300 employees of the Brazilian mining company Vale were working when it happened. About 100 had been accounted for, and rescue efforts were under way to determine what had happened to the others.

“The principal victims were our own workers,” Vale CEO Fabio Schvartsman told a news conference Friday evening. He said a restaurant was buried by the mud at lunchtime.

Bolsonaro said he lamented the accident and sent three cabinet ministers to the area.

“We will take all the possible steps to minimize the suffering of families and victims,” Bolsonaro said in a speech, which he posted on Twitter.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left center, is received by Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro at the military base Fort Copacabana, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, December 28, 2018. (Leo Correa/Pool Photo via AP)

The far-right leader had campaigned on promises to jumpstart Brazil’s economy, in part by deregulating mining and other industries. Environmental groups and activists said the latest spill underscored a lack of regulation.

The rivers of mining waste raised fears of widespread contamination.

According to Vale’s website, the mine waste, often called tailings, is composed mostly of sand and is non-toxic. However, a UN report found that waste from a 2015 disaster “contained high levels of toxic heavy metals.”

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