Rio tries to restore order amid rain, 104 dead

  • World
  • Wednesday, 07 Apr 2010

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Rio de Janeiro braced for more rain on Wednesday as the death toll from flooding climbed to 104 and order slowly returned to Brazil's second-biggest city that was thrown into chaos a day earlier.

Rio's mayor said traffic had improved after the heaviest rains in at least three decades on Tuesday turned highways into lakes, left commuters and residents stranded and sparked mudslides that crushed houses in hillsides slums.

Rio's Fire Department said rescue teams had stepped up searches for dozens of people missing as a result of floods and mudslides.

"From the point of view of mobility, the situation is better than yesterday," Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes told reporters at an early morning press conference.

He urged residents to postpone meetings and avoid traveling in the city if possible. Schools remained shut for a second day.

The government weather service predicted rain would continue until Saturday even after clouds broke briefly and rains eased on Wednesday morning.

A Fire Department spokesman said 39 people were killed in the city of Rio, famous for its beaches and Carnaval celebrations, while the remainder of the casualties took place in suburbs and in neighboring cities and town of the state of Rio de Janeiro.

In the nearby city of Niteroi, residents desperately searched for survivors in rubble left from 10 houses that collapsed from a mudslide, the Globo network reported.

"I lost my sister-in-law and a niece, and my nephew and brother-in-law are still missing," nurse Samuel Franca, who managed to rescue his sister from the wreckage the day before, told Globo.

Globo images showed buses struggling to drive through flooded streets in western parts of the city, though transit had largely returned to normal in the central business district.

Paes called on those living in hillside slums at risk for mudslides -- which were responsible for most of Tuesday's deaths -- to leave their homes as the rains continued.

"Their lives are at risk," Paes added.

Brazil's popular football team Flamengo postponed a match with a rival team from Chile because of the rains.

The mayor on Tuesday 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 vulnerable to heavy rains.

Television images on Tuesday 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.

The latest flooding and transportation chaos has renewed attention on Rio's poor infrastructure as it prepares to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016.

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.

(Writing by Brian Ellsworth, editing by Vicki Allen)

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