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Brazil to sue BHP, Vale for $5.2 billion for environmental disaster after dams burst

In this Nov. 6, 2015 photo, homes lay in ruins after two dams burst the previous day, flooding the small town of Bento Rodrigues in Minas Gerais state, Brazil. Searchers used small airplanes and a drone to look for missing people after dams broke inside an iron ore mine. The mine operator Samarco is jointly owned by the Brazilian mining company Vale and Australia's BHP Billiton. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

In this Nov. 6, 2015 photo, homes lay in ruins after two dams burst the previous day, flooding the small town of Bento Rodrigues in Minas Gerais state, Brazil. Searchers used small airplanes and a drone to look for missing people after dams broke inside an iron ore mine. The mine operator Samarco is jointly owned by the Brazilian mining company Vale and Australia's BHP Billiton. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Federal and state governments in Brazil say they will sue iron ore miner Samarco and its co-owners BHP Billiton and Vale for $ 5.2 billion for the damage caused when a dam burst earlier this month, creating an environmental disaster.

Officials say the wave of mud that spilled into the Doce River on Nov. 5 left an estimated nine tons of dead fish, polluted 850 kilometers (530 miles) of waterways and contaminated the source of drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people in Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo states. At least 13 people died in the incident.

Brazil's environment minister Izabella Teixeira said on Friday that the companies will be sued to deal with the consequences of the burst dam over the next 10 years. She said the price tag could still be increased.

"Whatever was lost there is lost forever, the biological chain won't be reconstructed," Teixeira said in a press conference.

Later, BHP and Vale announced the creation of a fund to deal with tragedy, but didn't mention the $5.2 billion figure or the 10-year plan.

In a statement, Vale's CEO Murilo Ferreira said the company will seek to revive the river that was a part of the company's former name, Companhia Vale do Rio Doce.

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