A Brazilian court has ordered mining giants Vale and BHP and their joint venture Samarco to pay $9.56 billion (R179bn) for damage caused by a 2015 tailings dam collapse, one of the country's worst environmental disasters.
Thursday's ruling orders the companies to pay 47.6 billion reais (about R179bn billion), according to the Belo Horizonte federal court document. It also says the figure should be adjusted for interest due to time elapsed since the disaster.
The tragedy in the southeastern town of Mariana unleashed a torrent of nearly 40 million cubic meters of highly toxic mine sludge, killing 19 people, flooding 39 towns and leaving more than 600 homeless.
The tailings dam was owned by Samarco, a joint venture between Brazil's Vale and the Anglo-Australian miner BHP.
"The companies BHP, Vale and Samarco were ordered to pay compensation for collective moral damages, due to the violation of the human rights of the affected communities," judge Vinicius Cobucci wrote in his ruling.
The sum is to be paid into a federally administered fund for use in rehabilitating the affected areas, according to the ruling.
As a result of the accident, "communities have suffered repercussions to their housing, work and personal relationships," Cobucci wrote, adding that "people have died" and "there has been environmental degradation."
A Vale representative told AFP on Friday that the firm had not been notified of the court's ruling, which it noted can be appealed.
Samarco and BHP did not immediately return requests for comment.
Through a non-profit called the Renova Foundation, Samarco, Vale and BHP have paid for clean-up work and damages, with $34.7bn reais earmarked for reparation and compensation, according to Vale's estimate.
The towns of Bento Rodrigues and Paracatu de Baixo were wiped off the map when the copper-colored iron ore waste roared down the mountainside in the 2015 disaster. The affected areas remain ghost towns, with thousands of people awaiting some kind of compensation.
Vale and BHP are also facing a class-action lawsuit in the UK over the incident involving as many as 700 000 victims.
According to a United Nations' assessment shortly after the disaster, the waste from the Fundao tailings dam travelled hundreds of kilometres through the Doce River and its tributaries all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.
In 2019, another dam owned by Vale collapsed in the same state of Minas Gerais, killing 270 people.