BHP's Andrew Mackenzie promises a relief fund as he inspects the Brazil mine disaster

A truck transports at the mine. Mario Tama/Getty Images

BHP Billiton is setting up an emergency relief fund to help the victims of the disaster at the mining company’s 50/50 joint venture ore mine in Brazil.

CEO Andrew Mackenzie is at the Samarco iron ore mine where a tailings dam failed last week, sending a wall of red mud into a local village. At least six are confirmed dead and 21 are missing, presumed dead.

He and Murilo Ferreira, the CEO of the BHP’s joint venture partner Vale, said: “We were overcome when we saw the devastation in and around Bento Rodrigues. We cannot rebuild the lives of the families who have lost loved ones but we redouble our commitment to Samarco to support the response effort.”

Vale and BHP said they will create an emergency fund for rebuilding and to help the affected families and communities.

“Our immediate priority is to understand the full extent of the consequences of the tailings dam breach and how we can provide further help,” the CEOs said.

“On behalf of all of the employees of Vale and BHP Billiton, we offer our profound sympathies to the family, friends and loved ones of the people who died as a result of this tragic incident. We are deeply concerned for the welfare of the employees, contractors and members of the local community who are still missing. Our thoughts are with you all in this distressing and uncertain time.”

At a media briefing at the mine site, the CEOs said the cause of the accident will be fully investigated.

The disaster could shave as much as 4% from BHP’s profits this current financial year.

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