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Brazil dam disaster death toll mounts as arrests warrants issued

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Firefighters recover the body of a victim of Friday's dam collapse at an iron-ore mine belonging to Brazil's giant mining company Vale near the town of Brumadinho, state of Minas Gerais, southeastern Brazil, Jan. 28, 2019. Getty

Rio de Janeiro -- Brazilian authorities have issued arrest warrants for five people in connection with a dam collapse that killed at least 65 people as it plastered part of a city with reddish-brown mud and mining waste. Police issued the warrants on Tuesday in Sao Paulo and in the state of Minas Gerais, where the collapse happened. They came as rescue crews worked for the fifth day to search for survivors or bodies.

Local media reported the warrants were for employees of Vale, the mining company that owned and operated the waste dam that collapsed.

In a statement, Vale said it was working with authorities. However, a spokeswoman couldn't immediately confirm that those being sought worked for the company.

An Associated Press photographer saw police bringing back one of the alleged suspects in Sao Paulo.

Lt. Col. Flavio Godinho of the civil defense department in Minas Gerais said late on Monday that 279 people were still missing. Officials have said the death toll could still grow "exponentially," as no has been rescued alive since Saturday.

Brazil dam collapse death toll rises to 34

In a sign of the risks posed by the deep mud, Col. Alexandre Ferreira, a doctor with the military police of Minas Gerais, advised rescue crews, volunteers and journalists to take antibiotics to prevent cholera, the bacterial infection leptospirosis and other diseases.

Search efforts were extremely slow because of the treacherous sea of reddish-brown mud that surged out when the mine tailings dam breached Friday afternoon. The mud was up 24 feet deep in some places, forcing searchers to carefully walk around the edges of the muck or slowly crawl onto it so they would not sink and drown.

Teams focused their searches Monday morning in areas where a bus was immersed and where many workers were eating lunch at the mine cafeteria when the dam ruptured.

The mine's owner, Vale SA, is the world's largest producer of iron ore, the raw ingredient for making steel. The Brazilian company's American depository shares plunged 18 percent Monday on the New York Stock Exchange.

At the scene of the disaster, helicopters looking for bodies took off and landed nonstop. On the ground, dozens of rescuers with tracking dogs were searching for bodies through the mountains of mud. An Associated Press photographer witnessed at least 10 helicopters each carrying one body.