Rains kill at least 50 in Rio, paralyze city

  • World
  • Tuesday, 06 Apr 2010

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - The heaviest rains in decades caused floods and landslides that killed about 50 people in Rio de Janeiro state, shutting down transport and commerce on Tuesday in Brazil's second city.

Mudslides swept away shacks in Rio's hillside slums, turning the city's main lake and the sea brown after fifteen hours of continuous heavy rain. Morning flights to and from the city of six million people that will host the 2016 Olympics were either cancelled or seriously delayed, and many neighbourhoods were cut off from power and transport.

Most of the victims were killed by mudslides and at least 18 more people were seriously injured, the state's civil defence authority said.

The downpour, which began late on Monday, is the worst the city of Rio has recorded in 30 years, authorities said.

"The situation is critical. Roads are flooded and blocked," Mayor Eduardo Paes told Reuters. "We recommend people stay at home."

Paes said 26 people had been killed in the Rio metropolitan area. Rescue officials said 14 people died in Niteroi city on the other side of Rio's Guanabara Bay and at least 9 people were killed in other areas. Media reported at least one additional death.

Globo TV showed images of houses that slid down a ravine, crumbling into pieces and covered by an avalanche of mud.

At least three residents of a slum in Rio's northern zone, including a five-month-old baby, were killed when a mudslide hit two houses, Globo reported rescue workers as saying.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva cancelled a planned visit to slum areas where he had been due to inaugurate public works projects.

"No one could cope with the rain that we are seeing, which is the worst in Rio's history," Lula said.

Television showed central parts of Rio de Janeiro flooded and abandoned cars under water. One man told TV Globo that his usual 10-15 minute commute to work in the upscale Leblon neighbourhood became a 6-hour ordeal.

On Copacabana beach, residents waded through ankle-deep water. Many commuters got stuck in traffic and returned home.

The southern hemisphere summer has been particularly hot and rainy in Rio this year.

At least 76 people died in flooding and mudslides in Brazil's most-populous states of Rio, Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais in January. Then, dozens of people were killed by a landslide in a beach resort halfway between Rio de Janeiro and the port city of Santos.

Meteorologists forecast more rain in coming days, raising fears of more mudslides as rain-drenched soil becomes heavy. About a fifth of Rio's metropolitan population of 6 million live in slums, often in precarious shacks that are highly vulnerable to heavy rains.

The latest flooding and transportation chaos is likely to renew attention on the city's poor infrastructure as it prepares to host the 2014 soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

(Writing by Raymond Colitt and Stuart Grudgings; editing by Alan Elsner)

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