Rescue workers said on Wednesday that as many as 200 people may have been buried in floods and landslides in and around Rio de Janeiro, where as many as 151 people have died since torrential rains began on Monday.
AFP - Some 200 people were feared dead after being buried in mudslides near Rio de Janeiro, officials said Thursday, bringing new tragedy to Brazil following massive floods which have killed more than 150.
"From what the neighbors said, some 200 people may be buried, but it is not clear, there could be more," local fire chief Pedro Machado told AFP Thursday as crews battled to dig through mudslides in Niteroi, a city across the bay from the city of Rio.
Twenty-five people, including eight small children, were pulled out alive early Thursday after spending hours buried under mud and debris.
The rescues fueled new hope for anxious relatives desperate to find their loved ones, as 150 rescue workers -- soldiers, firefighters and civil defense workers -- searched for more survivors.
Six bodies had been recovered following the mudslide late Wednesday.
But firefighters said there was little chance of finding survivors after part of the hillside fell away and slid some 700 meters (yards) swallowing everything in its path, including 50 houses, a day-care center and a pizzeria.
The six confirmed deaths raised the death toll to 151 in floods and mudslides around Rio since it was hit Monday by the worst rains in half a century.
Most of the casualties were trapped in landslides in the slums around Rio, a city of some 16 million people that will host the World Cup football tournament in 2014 and the 2016 Summer Olympics.
The toll was likely to rise as dozens of people were reportedly still missing after the rains, which displaced more than 1,400 people and destroyed scores of homes.
Sabrina Carvalho de Jesus, 26, a hospital worker, escaped with her life when the earth began to move, but her grandfather, mother and six year old son were buried.
"Honestly, I don't hold out hope any more" for her missing loved ones, she said, saying they were under "an awful lot of earth, and being buried for 12 hours -- that's a lot of time."
The head of the Niteroi public services, Jose Mocarzel, said the Morro do Bumba shantytown had been built up over the past 25 years on an old landfill site and was particularly at risk.
Flooding over the past days has been so intense that authorities urged residents to remain indoors. By Wednesday the rains had been begun to stop, providing hope the worst was over.
Emergency officials said most fatalities were in hillside slums around the city of Rio de Janeiro and announced plans to try to evacuate tens of thousands of inhabitants fearing further loss of life.
"People have nowhere to go, they're all doomed," Vinicius Gomes, the cousin of a landslide victim, told AFP.
Various officials and President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva criticized decades of negligence which allowed shoddy home construction in high-risk zones.
"Our aim now is to save lives. Of course we'll have to remove houses from risk areas in Niteroi," local mayor Jorge Silveira told journalists.
But the authorities were blasted in the press for failing to anticipate the disaster.
"Where is the emergency plan?" said the daily O Globo.
"The tragedies of the rains in Rio have been repeated over 40 years and the authorities do not react," the newspaper said.
The killer floods wreaked havoc with air traffic, delaying most international flights in and out of Rio's Antonio Carlos Jobim airport and forcing the cancellation of many domestic services.
Brazil had already seen deadly deluges in Sao Paulo earlier this year after the wettest summer in the region in more than six decades. National weather service Inmet said Tuesday's rainfall was the heaviest in 48 years.
Date created : 2010-04-08