The death toll from the floods and landslides that hit the mountainous city of Petrópolis rose to 117 on Thursday, and local authorities said it could still rise a lot as there are 116 people missing.
The government of the state of Rio de Janeiro confirmed on Thursday the increase in the number of deaths, and it is feared that many people are buried in the mud in the German-influenced city, nestled in the mountains near the city of Rio. of Janiero.
Torrents of water and mud swept cars and homes through the streets Tuesday in one of the most intense storms in decades. One video showed two buses sinking into a swollen river as their passengers climbed out of windows, struggling for safety. Some did not reach the shore and were swept out of sight by the water.RELATED
Survivors dug through the rubble to find loved ones, even as more landslides seemed likely on the city’s slopes. A small mudslide on Thursday prompted an evacuation, but left no injuries.
By evening, the region was hit by heavy downpours again, sparking renewed concern among residents and rescuers. The authorities insisted that the inhabitants of the risk areas must evacuate.
Rosilene Virginia said her brother narrowly escaped, and she considers it a miracle. But they still haven’t found a friend.
“It’s very sad to see people asking for help and having no way to help, no way to do anything,” Virginia told The Associated Press as a man comforted her. “It’s desperate, such a feeling of loss.”
While some people tried to remove the mud, others began to bury relatives. 17 funerals were held in the damaged cemetery.
Rio de Janeiro police said in a statement Thursday that some 200 officers were checking lists of people alive, dead and missing through visits to checkpoints and shelters, as well as the city’s morgue. They said they had removed three people from a list of missing persons after they were found alive at a local school.
“Every detail is important so that we can track people down,” said Elen Souto, an investigator with the Rio de Janeiro police. “We need people to report the missing person’s full name, their identification card, their physical features and the clothes she was wearing.”
Petrópolis, named after a former Brazilian emperor, has long been a haven for those escaping the summer heat and for tourists eager to explore the so-called “Imperial City.”
Its prosperity has also attracted the poorest residents of Rio de Janeiro’s marginalized regions. Its population has grown in a disorderly way, settling on the slopes of the mountains, which are now covered with small huddled residences. Many are in areas not suitable for such structures and have become more vulnerable due to deforestation and inadequate drainage.
The state Fire Department said 10 inches (25.8 centimeters) of rain fell in the area in a matter of three hours Tuesday, almost as much as the total for the past 30 days. The governor of Rio de Janeiro, Claudio Castro, explained in a press conference that the rains were the worst recorded in Petrópolis since 1932.
“Nobody could predict rains as intense as these,” Castro said. According to meteorologists, more precipitation is expected the rest of the week.
Nearly 400 people were left homeless and another 24 were rescued alive, Castro added. They are lucky, and they are few.
Lisa Torres Machado, 64, said that “the hand of God” freed her family from the tragedy.
“There was a small room left in my mother’s house and there she took shelter with my two sisters and my brother,” Machado, a resident of Petrópolis, told the AP. “I can not sleep. I still can’t believe what is happening. We have lost all our friends.”
The mountainous region has seen similar catastrophes in recent decades, including one that killed more than 900 people. Petrópolis has since presented a plan to reduce the risk of landslides, but works have progressed slowly. The plan, announced in 2017, was based on an analysis that determined that 18% of the city’s territory presented a high risk of landslides and floods.
Authorities said more than 180 residents in high-risk areas are holed up in schools. More equipment and manpower are expected to arrive on Thursday to help with the rescue efforts.
President Jair Bolsonaro expressed his solidarity while in Russia on an official trip. Petrópolis has declared three days of mourning for the tragedy.
The southeast of Brazil has been hit by heavy rains since the beginning of the year, with more than 40 deaths in incidents recorded in the Minas Gerais region in January and in Sao Paulo days later that same month.
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