This article shows the interesting results of a pioneer effort by IAG/USP researchers to use ground-penetrating radar (GPR) for humanitarian purposes, guiding the rescue of victims in the tragedy of Brumadinho. The tailings Dam I at the Córrego do Feijão iron ore mine, located in the Brumadinho complex, Minas Gerais State, Brazil, collapsed on 25 January 2019. About 11.7 million m3
of mining mud was spilled from the dam, burying bodies, equipment, structural buildings, buses, and cars along a length of 8.5 km up to the Paraopeba River. Additionally, the contaminated mud traveled more than 300 km along the bed of the Paraopeba River toward the São Francisco River. This work shows the results of a geophysical investigation using the GPR method 17 days after the event. To carry out the geophysical survey, an excavator was used for soil compaction. The data acquisition was performed on the tracks left by the excavator chain using SIR-4000 equipment and antennas of 200 and 270 MHz (GSSI). The GPR studies aimed to map bodies, structural buildings, and equipment buried in the mud. The location of the profiles followed preferably the edge of the slope due to the higher probability of finding buried bodies and objects. The GPR results allowed the detection of subsoil structures, such as concentrations of iron ore and accumulations of sand from the dam filter. The GPR was effective because the iron ore sludge in the mixing process became porous and the pores were filled with air, which provided penetration and reflection of the GPR electromagnetic waves up to a depth of 3.5 m. The results were surprising. Although no bodies or underground equipment were found, the results of this research served to eliminate the studied areas from future excavations, thus redirecting the rescue teams and optimizing the search process. These important results can serve as an additional motivation for the use of GPR in future humanitarian work in areas of tragedies.
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