RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - The heaviest rains in decades caused floods and landslides that killed at least 79 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 heavy rain.
Morning flights in and out of the city of six million people that will host the 2016 Olympics were either canceled or seriously delayed, and many neighborhoods were cut off from power and transport.
Most victims were killed at least 180 mudslides set off by the rain, authorities said. A spokesman for Rio's fire service said at least 40 injured people had been taken to hospitals and that they were searching for others reported missing.
"The situation is critical. Roads are flooded and blocked," Mayor Eduardo Paes told Reuters. "We recommend people stay at home."
Paes told reporters that at least 26 people had died in the metropolitan area, and the fire service said that a total of 79 people were killed. The mayor said 10,000 houses remained at risk, mostly in the slums where about a fifth of Rio's population live, often in precarious shacks that are highly vulnerable to heavy rains.
The downpour, which began late on Monday, is the worst Rio has recorded in 30 years, authorities said. In less than 24 hours, Paes said clouds dumped 28.8 cm (9 inches) of rain on the city. Meteorologists said that was more than the amount expected for the entire month of April.
Meteorologists forecast more rain in coming days, raising fears of more mudslides as rain-drenched soil becomes heavy. 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.
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva canceled 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.
Globo TV showed images of houses that slid down a ravine, crumbling into pieces and covered by an avalanche of mud. Rescuers pulled people to safety from cars stranded in fast-moving, waist-high water.
SLUMS BEAR BRUNT
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, according to media reports.
"When I opened the (apartment) door the water came rushing in just like a waterfall," said Jessica Tavares, a 24-year-old student. The water flooded the apartment and left plants, trash, and even fish on her floor, she said.
TV images showed central parts of Rio de Janeiro flooded and abandoned cars under water. Near Copacabana beach, residents waded through ankle-deep water on their way to work, but 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.
(Additional reporting by Brian Ellsworth)
(Writing by Raymond Colitt and Stuart Grudgings; editing by Alan Elsner)