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Heavy rains leave Brazil indigenous group homeless again

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An indigenous woman of the Pataxo ethnicity observes flooding in Nao Xoha village after pouring rains, in Sao Joaquim de Bicas, in Minas Gerais state, Brazil January 12, 2022. REUTERS/Washington Alves

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SAO JOAQUIM DE BICAS, Brazil, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Three years ago, the collapse of the tailings dam at an iron ore mine forced them to move their homes to higher ground.

Now, the rain-swollen Paraopeba River has flooded their new village and left them homeless again.

Some 50 indigenous people of the Pataxo-Hahahae tribe have taken shelter in a local school, but their houses in the village of Nao Xoha have been contaminated by muddy tailings-filled waters of the river.

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"We lost houses. We lost bathrooms. We lost our medical center. We lost furniture. Our community is all flooded," Chief Sucupira Pataxó-Hahahae said on Wednesday. "It makes your heart bleed."

"The water contaminated by ore flooded our homes and backyards. There's no way we can live there anymore. We have a lot of kids," he said.

Heavy rains have pounded the mining region of Minas Gerais state in southeast Brazil relentlessly for the past two weeks, causing dams to overflow and flooding towns and roads. More than 20 people have died.

In January 2019, a dam collapsed at a mine near Brumadinho owned by giant miner Vale SA (VALE3.SA), releasing a mudflow that crashed through the mine's cafeteria and buried houses and farms, killing 270 people.

No Pataxo-Hahahae died in the disaster. But miles downstream, their way of life became unsustainable on the banks of a polluted river where they had bathed, washed their clothes and fished for their main source of food.

The village had 80 residents at that time, who had to uproot their existence and move to safer ground 30 meters (98 ft)away from the river. Now even that new site is under water.

"It is so sad to see this happen again," said Marina Pataxo-Hahahae, looking out at her flooded backyard.

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Reporting by Laronardo Benassatto Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Diane Craft

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