Rains kill at least 95 in Rio, paralyze city


  • World
  • Wednesday, 07 Apr 2010

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Landslides and floods set off by the heaviest rains in decades killed at least 95 people in Rio de Janeiro state, making hundreds homeless, flooding roads and paralyzing Brazil's second city on Tuesday.

Mudslides swept away shacks in Rio's hillside slums, turning the city's main lake and the sea brown during the heavy rains that started on Monday and continued to fall through most of Tuesday.

Most victims died in more than 180 mudslides, authorities said. Rio's fire service said at least 40 injured people were taken to hospitals as the search went on for others reported missing, and that the death toll was certain to rise.

Mayor Eduardo Paes warned residents to stay away from risky hillside areas and said public schools would stay closed for a second day on Wednesday as more heavy rain was forecast through the night.

Officials said 39 people died in metropolitan Rio, famous for its Carnival and beaches, and 41 were killed in Niteroi, the city on the other side of Rio's Guanabara Bay. The fire service said a total of 95 people were killed across the state.

The mayor said 1,200 people had been made homeless and that 10,000 houses remained at risk, mostly in the slums where about a fifth of Rio's people live, often in precarious shacks that are highly vulnerable to heavy rains.

Morning flights in and out of the city of 6 million people -- which will host the 2014 soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympics -- were canceled or seriously delayed and many neighborhoods were cut off from power and transport.

Many companies shut down their offices for the day as torrents of water snarled traffic.

Joabes Araujo da Silva, a 21-year-old telemarketer, told Brazil's Globo news the mudslide swept away his house in the Buraco Quente neighborhood.

"I only got out of the house, which was full of mud, when my dad pushed the door open. We couldn't get out the window. It was the scariest thing when I saw the house I've lived in for 20 years fall," he said.

SLUMS BEAR BRUNT

The downpour, which began late on Monday, is the worst Rio has recorded in at least 30 years.

In less than 24 hours, Paes said, 9 inches (28.8 cm) of rain fell on the city -- more than what meteorologists said was expected for all of April. After a break, heavy rains began again in mid-afternoon, raising fears of more mudslides.

The latest flooding and transportation chaos will renew attention on Rio's poor infrastructure as it prepares to host the World Cup and the Olympics.

The Southern Hemisphere summer has been particularly hot and rainy in Rio this year.

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

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva canceled an event on Tuesday where he was 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 showed images of houses that slid down a ravine, crumbling to pieces under the mud. Rescuers pulled people to safety from cars stranded in waist-high rushing water.

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.

Television images showed central parts of Rio 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.

(Additional reporting by Brian Ellsworth; writing by Raymond Colitt and Stuart Grudgings; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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