A dam holding waste from an iron ore mine burst and submerged a village in Brazil's Minas Gerais state. As many as 16 people are feared dead and 45 others have been reported missing.

The mine operating company Samarco said that it had not yet determined the cause of the dam burst at its Germano mine, which occurred on Thursday (5 November). Samarco is a joint venture between mine majors Australian BHP Bilton and Brazil's Vale.

Banto village was destroyed by the thick red mud and waste water. The city council said it was evacuating about 600 people from the village to higher ground.

The mine waste comprising metal filings, water and cocktail of chemicals had also reached another village further down the hill, called Paracatú de Baixo. Inhabitants there were also being evacuated.

Fears of water contamination have been fuelled due to the presence of a river nearby. The expanse of mud held back by the dam was equivalent to 10 football fields, according to AFP.

Minas Gerais has been the mining hub since five centuries in Brazil, with the area yielding gold, iron ore and other minerals and semi-precious stones.

The Germano mine is a joint venture between the world's largest iron miner and the largest mining company. Samarco produces around 30 million tonnes of iron ore per year, Reuters reported, amounting to a tenth of the country's output.