Maputo — Mozambique's Minister of Mineral Resources, Esperanca Bias, has flown to the northern province of Nampula, following a serious accident at the dredge mine in the coastal district of Moma, operated by the Irish company Kenmare.
The mine produces titanium and zirconium minerals (ilmenite, rutile and zircon) from the Moma heavy sands. Mining is undertaken using two dredges and a floating concentrator plant. Once the minerals are extracted, sand and clay tailings are deposited behind the plant through a series of settling ponds.
But, at about 02.00 on Friday morning, a containment wall around one of these settling ponds adjacent to the dredge mine ruptured, and a flood of water, sand and clay swept through part of the village of Topuito. According to a Kenmare statement the discharge was not toxic - but the water destroyed or damaged 115 flimsy houses, leaving their inhabitants homeless.
The disaster happened while most of the village was asleep. Three people were injured, and one four year old girl was reported missing.
Those whose homes were washed away also lost most of their possessions, including foodstuffs, clothing, furniture and domestic utensils.
Kenmare promised to provide the victims with three meals a day, and with a supply of clean water. The company is accommodating them in a warehouse inside the mining complex until a more definitive solution can be found. The Nampula provincial delegation of the Mozambican relief agency, the National Disaster Management Institute (INGC) has sent 250 tents to Moma and a large number of blankets.
In the wake of the accident, mining was temporarily suspended, while work to repair the damage at Topuito got under way.
The Kenmare statement declared that the company "has always regarded the health and safety of the community and its employees as its highest priority and is treating this incident with the utmost seriousness".
Esperanca Bias told reporters that the most important immediate task was to guarantee shelter for all the families affected. "We have to ensure that people are not affected by any diseases or by dangerous products", she said. "Fortunately, we have learnt that the company has made space available for the victims, which is praiseworthy'.
Bias said that the government will do all it can to mitigate the effects of the accident, so that life can return to normal in Topuito.