Borba quarry deaths: council bosses and businesses in spotlight

The latest “accident waiting to happen” that has certainly taken the lives of five people in Borba is now the centre of intense investigation to appoint blame.

The truth is that warnings of the fragility of the 100 metre stretch of the EN255 that crossed two gaping gouges into the landscape go back more than a decade.

“Risk of fracturing”, “Risk of flooding”, “Lack of security for people and the passage of vehicles” are simply three of the alerts sounded since studies were commissioned into the situation of these quarries, reports tabloid Correio da Manhã.

The first study, undertaken by INE-TI (the national institute of engineering technology and innovation), submitted its findings in 2006, classifying the area that caved into a huge subterranean lake as one of “high risk”.

“There were meetings, proposals to close that stretch of road”, further meetings, “but nothing was done”, CM continues its story under the headline: “Mayor ignores alerts over risk of EN255”.

The situation today (Thursday) is that mayor António Anselmo claims “never in his life” to have been informed of the dangers.

This in itself is odd, bearing in mind that quarry boss Luís Sottomayor claims to have told the council four years ago that if nothing was done about the vulnerability of EN255 “responsibility” for any disaster would be “on the council”.

By coincidence, Mayor Anselmo is also managing partner of marble quarrying firm Carrapinha & Anselmo, writes CM – stressing that in 2014, the State’s own board of economy (DGAE), and of energy and geology (DGEG) called for the closure of the road running past the quarries.

It is suggested that Anselmo, at this point, said “if there exists any report that proves the road is unsafe” it should be “evaluated” with a lot of “attention and great calm”.

Today, as industrial pumps are working flat-out to remove quarry waters concealing two vehicles believed to contain three of the victims, that “attention and great calm” will be the focus of investigations by PJ judicial police.

The government meantime has confirmed it “knew nothing of the risks” – despite the reports by the DGAE and DGEG.

President of the Republic Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has told reporters that he himself used the road on a number of occasions, in the belief that it was safe.

Aerial photographs of the site however leave little doubt as to the enormity of excavations on either side of the collapsed road, which resembles a thin ribbon of grey running through two gaping chasms.

SIC television news is suggesting the quarry companies that have been removing stone from the area for more than two decades may not have been properly checked from a work-safety point of view.

Jorge Plácido Simões, boss of one of the quarries, disputes this – though photographs of the disaster show clearly how a machine operated by two of the victims was directly under the landslide that brought tons of rocks raining down on it.

As of time of writing, the body of only one of these victims has been recovered.

Three further victims remain unaccounted for under the murky waters that are being pumped out this morning at a rate of 3,000 litres per hour.

And memories hanging in the air remind nationals of the Entre-os-Rios disaster in 2001 when a bridge collapsed, taking 59 people with it.

Says CM today, despite all the forewarnings about the bridge’s vulnerability, “blame” for the disaster “has died a spinster”.

Indeed, the remains of 36 victims have never even been recovered.

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