Hundreds Dead in Brazil Slides, Search to Continue
2011-01-13 06:35:52.401 GMT
By JULIANA BARBASSA
Rio De janeiro (AP) -- Driving rains sent tons of rusty red
earth sliding into mountain towns, killing at least 257 people
and leaving dozens more missing -- lives rescuers hope to save
when they resume searches Thursday.
In the hardest-hit town of Teresopolis, where the local
civil defense agency said at least 130 people died, hundreds of
family members crowded around the town's morgue Wednesday night
waiting to identify bodies.
Before rescue attempts were called off because of darkness,
searchers used heavy machinery, shovels and bare hands trying
to find survivors. How many were saved was not known. In one
town, firefighters rescued a 25-year-old man who held his
6-month-old son for 15 hours until they were both pulled out
alive. The man's wife and mother-in-law were feared dead.
Heavy rains and mudslides kill hundreds of people across
Brazil each year, especially during the South American summer.
The worst hit are the poor, whose rickety homes are often built
on steep slopes with weak or no foundations.
In Teresopolis, 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of Rio de
Janeiro, deluges filled creeks and the overflows swept over
already water-logged mountainsides. Brick and wooden shacks
built on hillsides stripped of trees washed away in surging
earth and water, leaving behind only a long trail of mud.
The mountains saw 10 inches (26 centimeters) of rain fall
in less than 24 hours.
Floodwaters continued to gush down the mountains for hours
after rainstorms ended Wednesday. Survivors waded through
waist-high water, carrying what belongings they could, trying
to reach higher ground. Many tried desperately to find
relatives, though phone service was out in the region and many
people were still missing hours after the rain stopped.
"There are so many disappeared -- and so many that will
probably never be found," said Angela Marina de Carvalho Silva,
a resident of Teresopolis who feared she may have lost 15
relatives, including five nieces and nephews.
"There was nothing we could do. It was hell," she said in a
Carvalho Silva took refuge in a neighbor's house on high
ground with her husband and daughter, and watched the
torrential rain carry away cars, tree branches and animals and
rip apart the homes of friends and family.
"It's over. There's nothing. The water came down and swept
everything away," said her husband, Sidney Silva.
In the neighboring mountain town of Nova Friburgo, at least
107 people died, according to an e-mailed statement from the
Rio state civil defense department. Among the dead were four
firefighters who were helping in the rescue effort. Three other
firefighters were listed as missing after their fire truck was
hit by a mudslide.
With the new disasters, more than 300 people have died
since Christmas across the southeastern portion Brazil.
President Dilma Rousseff signed a measure Wednesday sending
$461 million to towns in Rio and Sao Paulo states that were
damaged during the recent rains. The money will go to repairing
infrastructure and preventing future disasters.
The president planned to fly over the most severely damaged
The mayor of Teresopolis, Jorge Mario Sedlacek, decreed a
state of emergency, calling the calamity "the worst to hit the
town." About 800 search-and-rescue workers from the state's
civil defense department and firefighters dug for survivors.
In neighboring Petropolis, 20 people were confirmed dead by
the Rio state civil defense department.
The death toll in the region was expected to rise as
firefighters reached remote valleys and steep mountainsides
where neighborhoods were destroyed, Teresopolis's mayor said.
About 1,000 people there were left homeless.
"This is the largest catastrophe in the history of this
town," Sedlacek said in an interview with Globo TV.
Heavy rainfall also caused havoc earlier in Minas Gerais
state north of Rio, where 16 people died in the past month and
dozens of communities are in a state of emergency.
In Sao Paulo, flooding paralyzed main thoroughfares in the
capital city since Sunday and 21 people died in collapsed
homes, mudslides and flooding throughout the state.
Rio state Gov. Sergio Cabral called on the navy to lend
helicopters to firefighters working as rescuers.
"We mourn the loss of lives in this tragedy caused by the
rain," Cabral said in a statement.
Associated Press writer Bradley Brooks in Sao Paulo
contributed to this report.
-0- Jan/13/2011 06:35 GMT