At least 104 people left dead in Brazil after torrential rain hits mountainous area near Rio

In just six hours, the city of Petrópolis received as much rainfall as had been forecast for the entire month of February

Rescue workers walk at a site of a mudslide at Morro da Oficina in Petropolis.
Rescue workers walk at a site of a mudslide at Morro da Oficina in Petropolis.Ricardo Moraes (REUTERS)

Torrential rain that fell on Tuesday has caused the deaths of at least 104 people, according to the fire service, in the Brazilian city of Petrópolis, in a mountainous region close to Río de Janeiro. Rescue teams were on Wednesday searching for an unknown number of people who had disappeared. There were more than a hundred landslides that swallowed up homes and neighborhoods in the city, and left the area flooded with mud. In just six hours, there was more rainfall than had been forecast for the entire month of February.

The authorities have mobilized to deal with the victims of this most-recent tragic episode in a season of rainfall that has already caused deadly floods in Bahia and São Paulo since December, as well as delaying the harvest and temporarily paralyzing the activity of mining companies.

This is not the first nor the most serious of the tragedies caused in this area by the rain. Just over 11 years ago, more than 900 people died in a single day in a number of municipalities, including Petrópolis, due to the torrential rainfall.

Rescue workers remove the body of a mudslide victim in Petrópolis on Wednesday.
Rescue workers remove the body of a mudslide victim in Petrópolis on Wednesday.Silvia Izquierdo (AP)

Petrópolis is around 70 kilometers from Rio, in a mountainous region in the inland area of the state. Thanks to its fresh climate, it was the city in which Emperor Pedro II of Brazil took refuge in order to flee the heat of Rio, which was then the capital. It is an area that is very popular with tourists, especially local ones.

Videos recorded by locals and that are circulating on social media show how a landslide from a hill swept away a number of buildings. The effects of the flash flood were visible in practically all of the corners of the city, according to images broadcast on television, which showed cars piled up and in unimaginable positions were it not for the force of the water.

State of emergency

Colonel Leandro Monteiro, the head of the state civil defense force, spoke about the difficult situation to daily O Globo. “The men who were coming from the barracks in the city of Rio only got to [Petrópolis] at the end of the night because the road was cut off,” he said. “We hope that more than 200 men will arrive in the city in the coming hours. The hardest part to access is in the area of Morro da Oficina. There are many people without a place to stay, displaced, and we will need help.”

The mayor has declared a state of emergency, the governor has traveled to the area, while President Jair Bolsonaro, who is in Russia on an official visit, has mobilized a number of ministers. “Scenes of war,” stated the governor, Claudio Castro, after visiting the devastated area. “Cars hanging off posts! There were dramatic scenes in the upper part of the city, a volume of water that’s never been seen before.”

Once the storm was over and the water subsided, bodies that had been dragged from the highest areas to the center of the city began to appear.

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