Mudslides and floods have killed at least 117 in Brazilian Petropolis

PETROPOLIS, Brazil (Reuters) – The death toll from mudslides and floods in the colonial Brazilian city of Petropolis rose to 117 on Thursday and the death toll is expected to rise as the region recovers from the heaviest rains in nearly a century.

Heavy rains in the afternoon, when the city recorded about 6 cm (2.36 in) of rain, further destabilized the soil and disrupted efforts to find survivors and clean up debris. According to meteorologists, up to 4 cm of rain is expected at night in the region.

“There are at least six children here and there may be more neighbours,” said resident Fabio Alves, noting that rescuers were not searching that area. “We estimate that more than 10 people are buried here and we need help,” he said.

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More than 700 people were forced to leave their homes and seek refuge in local schools and other temporary accommodation. Rio de Janeiro Governor Claudio Castro on Wednesday compared the damage to a war zone.

Marcelo Barbosa, another resident, said, “I’m here hoping to find my wife. I’m sure she’s here. The neighbor downstairs said she was on the balcony when the mudslide happened.”

There is conflicting information about the number of victims of the tragedy. Police said more than 100 people were missing, while the public prosecutor’s office said at least 35 people were missing.

During the day, the local mortuary was forced to use a refrigerated truck as a precaution as more victims were brought in while other bodies were still waiting to be identified by their families.

The head of Rio de Janeiro’s civil defense, Leandro Monteiro, worked all night, with poor lighting on a wetland, to find survivors. He is among more than 500 rescue workers, along with the neighbors and relatives of the victims who are still searching for their loved ones.

“I’ve been living here for 44 years and have never seen anything like this… All my friends are gone, all are dead and buried,” said resident Maria Jose Dante de Araujo.

The torrential rains, which on Tuesday alone exceeded the average for the entire month of February, caused mudslides that flooded streets, destroyed homes, swept away cars and buses, and left wounds hundreds of meters in the region’s mountainsides. Read more

It was the heaviest rainfall since 1932 in Petropolis, a hilly destination in the state of Rio de Janeiro, known as the “Imperial City” because it was the summer vacation of Brazilian kings in the 19th century.

“I don’t even have the words. I am devastated. We are all devastated for what we lost, for our neighbors, for our friends, our homes. And we are still alive, what about those who are gone?” Resident Lucy Vieira dos Santos said.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has promised to visit the region upon his return from an official trip to Russia and Hungary, has pledged federal aid to help residents and begin rebuilding the region.

In light of the disaster, Brazil’s Ministry of Economy responded by agreeing to tax breaks for Rio de Janeiro and Espiritu Santo, where heavy rains have also caused damage.

Since December, torrential rains have caused deadly floods and landslides across much of Brazil, threatening to delay harvests and briefly suspend mining operations in Minas Gerais state, north of Rio.

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(Additional reporting by Sebastian Rocandio in Petropolis and Rodrigo Vega Gayer in Rio de Janeiro; Additional reporting by Eduardo Simos in Sao Paulo and Marcela Aires in Brasilia. Reporting by Gabriel Araujo and Ana Mano; Editing by John Stonestreet, Alison Williams, Chizu Nomiyama and Diane Kraft

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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