Dozens of people have been hospitalised and infrastructure damaged after a tailings dam of the mothballed Jagersfontein diamond mine burst on Sunday morning.
It is unclear how many fatalities have resulted from the tragedy with the latest statement from Free State emergency services putting the number of confirmed deaths at one, adjusting previous reports that three people had died as a result of the dam burst.
At midday on Sunday, SABC News cited spokesperson to the Free State Premier Palesa Chubis as saying that houses and cars were swept away in the incident. Several houses in the nearby Charlesville residential area had collapsed, the report said.
“The provincial government has activated the disaster management team and the Joint Operation Centre to determine the extent of the disaster and also carry out evacuation processes where necessary,” the spokesperson said.
“More details on what may have caused the incident will be shared at the later stage once government has received a detailed report on the incident.”
The Department of Minerals Resources and Energy is expected to send a team of inspectors to assess the extent of damage caused following a mine dam burst, according to a report by SABC News.
“The Department of Minerals and Energy has noted with concern the unfolding incident in Jagersfontein in the Free State province where flooding occurred as a result of the reported dam burst,” said Nathi Shabangu in a statement.
“The department inspectors are en route to the site and further information thereof would be communicated following investigations,” he said.
Unconfirmed reports say the tailings dam was located on a diamond mine owned by JDP Mining. The Minerals Council said it was unable to confirm the mine owner but it added it was not any of its members. The Jagersfontein diamond mine was closed in the 1970s.
“The loss of life and injuries sustained in the deluge from the collapsed dam as well as the damage to homes and infrastructure is a tragedy,” it said in a statement.
“The Minerals Council has reached out to the South African authorities to offer whatever practical support and assistance that the industry can provide regarding the Jagersfontein tragedy at this trying time.”
Residents are being evacuated from their homes while others have already moved to higher lying areas for safety.
Free State Premier Sisi Ntombela and Cooperative Governance MEC Mxolisi Dukwana are on their way to Jagersfontein to assess the situation, said SABC News.
State-owned power utility Eskom said in a separate statement it lost bulk electricity supply in the area when its Rietkuil substation was engulfed by mud and aims to restore supply to the Jagersfontein mine before the end of the day.
Tailings safety was global news in 2015 when a dam owned by the Samarco Mineracao SA joint venture between Vale and BHP in Brazil burst killing 19 people.
That was followed by an even greater trajedy when in January 2019 the collapse of the Brumadinho dam, containing waste from an iron ore mine, killed 270 people. Families of the victims were awarded $7bn after mine and dam owner Vale, a Brazilian firm, was found to be responsible.