TEHRAN (Press Shia Agency) – Up to 300 people are missing and 9 are dead after a dam collapsed at an iron ore mine in south-eastern Brazil, officials say.

– World news –

Workers with Brazilian mining company Vale were eating lunch when the dam that held back waste collapsed, burying a restaurant and surrounding community in Brumadinho in reddish-brown sludge, AP reported.

The status of the workers and others in the city was unknown late yesterday, hours after what President Jair Bolsonaro and other officials were already describing as a "tragedy."

Seven bodies had been recovered by late yesterday, according to a statement from the governor's office of Minas Gerais state. But the fear was that there would be many more as rescue and recovery teams dug through feet of mud.

Vale CEO Fabio Schvartsman said he did not know what caused the collapse. About 300 employees were working when it happened.

About 100 had been accounted for, and rescue efforts were underway to determine what had happened to the others.

After the dam collapsed in the afternoon, parts of Brumadinho were evacuated, and firefighters rescued people by helicopter and ground vehicles.

Local television channel TV Record showed a helicopter hovering inches off the ground as it pulled people covered in mud out of the waste.

Photos showed rooftops poking above an extensive field of the mud, which also cut off roads. The flow of waste reached the nearby community of Vila Ferteco and a Vale administrative office, where employees were present.

Another dam administered by Vale and Australian mining company BHP Billiton collapsed in 2015 in the city of Mariana in Minas Gerais state, resulting in 19 deaths and forcing hundreds from their homes.

Considered the worst environmental disaster in Brazilian history, it left 250,000 people without drinking water and killed thousands of fish.

An estimated 60 million cubic meters of waste flooded rivers and eventually flowed into the Atlantic Ocean.

Schvartsman said what happened yesterday was "a human tragedy much larger than the tragedy of Mariana, but probably the environmental damage will be less."

The state fire department told The Associated Press that about 200 people were missing. The Minas Gerais governor's office said 150 were missing.

According to Vale's website, the mine waste, often called tailings, is composed mostly of sand and is non-toxic. However, a UN report found that the waste from the 2015 disaster "contained high levels of toxic heavy metals."

Vale is Brazil's largest mining company. Two hours after the accident, its stock fell 10 per cent on the New York Stock Exchange.

Just before midnight today, firefighters put out a list of 187 people who had been rescued throughout the afternoon.

Of the 427 workers who were on hand when the dam collapsed, 279 had been accounted for, Vale said in a statement.

More than 100 firefighters were on the scene and another 200 were expected to arrive Saturday.