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Judge freezes assets for Brazil mining company following dam collapse

In this Nov. 21, 2015 photo, residents stand in line at a free water distribution site, weeks after a dam burst at the Samarco iron mine, causing mudslides and contaminated the area's drinkable water supplies, in Colatina, Brazil. The bottled water is provided by Samarco, which is jointly owned by mining giants Vale of Brazil and Australiaâs BHP Billiton. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

In this Nov. 21, 2015 photo, residents stand in line at a free water distribution site, weeks after a dam burst at the Samarco iron mine, causing mudslides and contaminated the area's drinkable water supplies, in Colatina, Brazil. The bottled water is provided by Samarco, which is jointly owned by mining giants Vale of Brazil and AustraliaĆ¢s BHP Billiton. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

A Brazilian judge has ordered that the assets held by mining giants Vale and Australian company BHP Billiton be frozen in the wake of a dam collapse that officials call the worst environmental disaster in the country's history.

The dam burst killed an estimated 9 tons of fish and polluted 850 kilometers (530 miles) of waterways.

The federal court said on Monday that Judge Marcelo Aguiar Machado ruled that Vale and BHP Billiton should be punished as co-owners of iron ore miner Samarco. The company operates the dam that burst on Nov. 5.

The ruling came after the federal government and Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo states filed a lawsuit to repair the $5 billion damage. Vale said in a Sunday statement that it plans to appeal that decision.

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