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Brazil Mudslides Kill Another 600 People

Rain slows Brazil mudslide rescue effort

Days after deadly disaster, many residents continue to live in homes in threatened areas

The Associated Press, Jan. 17, 2011

TERESOPOLIS, Brazil — Efforts to fly rescue helicopters to hundreds of people stranded by massive mudslides were slowed by renewed rains in a region north of Rio de Janeiro, as the death toll rose to 633 in a disaster that has left thousands more homeless.
With rainy skies and low visibility in an area full of craggy, steep peaks, officials focused their attention on the survivors they could reach more immediately, mapping out a plan to get people living in tents in the short term, and into safe, affordable housing in the coming months.

Mayor Jorge Mario Sedlacek of Teresopolis, one of the hardest-hit cities, said Sunday that more than 2,000 tents were being brought in, each capable of sheltering up to 10 people. Teresopolis has more than 3,000 people who were made homeless by the slides.

"They will give families shelter for up to six months while more permanent solutions can be developed," Sedlacek said. "These tents will at least re-establish the family units, which will bring some comfort to people living in communal shelters."

That could come as good news to people like Magda Brito Silveira, who said she was near her breaking point trying to run her family of six children after five chaotic days in a crowded gymnasium-turned-shelter.

"We have nowhere else to go, no resources," she said. "I am trying to keep the children clean, to feed them, to make sure we're all together. But I can't hold on like this much longer."

A local business has offered land on which to set up the tents, and crews began working to level the ground, Sedlacek said. The city is also studying the option of erecting modular homes, which can be set up within a few days.

Federal housing

Even before the disaster struck, the city had requested federal funds to build affordable, safe housing, in a region notably lacking in both.

More than $72 million has since been approved for Teresopolis and will be used to build homes and shore up areas at risk for more slides, the mayor said. Two other towns hit by the disaster also won federal funding: $13 million for Petropolis, and $5 million for Nova Friburgo.

The federal government also offered to pay the rent of 2,500 families for an indeterminate period. Sign-ups for the program started Sunday, said Gen. Jose Elito, minister for national security.

"We are removing bureaucratic bottlenecks and registering people to help them with long-term housing needs," Elito said.

Authorities also will map out and evacuate high-risk areas where residents are holding on to their homes, said Sedlacek, the mayor.
"We know there are communities that are at immediate risk. The government is planning to remove those residents and place them in shelters or tents," he said.

Days after mudslides wiped out whole neighborhoods early Wednesday, many residents continued to live in homes in threatened areas, unwilling to join the thousands crowded into shelters despite the ever-present danger to their lives.

Rali Oliveira da Silva, 35, spent several years building a home for his family in Cascata do Imbui, saving little by little for the cement, the bricks, the paint. The house was still standing Sunday, but its cement patio now hung precariously over a yawning precipice, the empty space left by a slide that killed most of his downhill neighbors.

Oliveira da Silva's home could be next. But he said he has no money to rent another place, much less buy land elsewhere and start over, so he's staying put for now.

"There is no financing for someone like me, and I can't afford to buy a home in town," he said. "What am I supposed to do? Move my family to a shelter? And then what?"

Free phones

On Sunday, municipal, state and federal officials set up a center to register missing persons; began distributing 35,000 free cell phones donated by a telecommunications company; and announced immediate plans to relocate some 2,500 people housed at the Teresopolis gym to 18 smaller, better organized shelters at churches, warehouses and other spaces.

A brief morning lull in the downpours allowed rescue helicopters to buzz around the emerald-green peaks in this area about 40 miles north of Rio de Janeiro, delivering desperately needed food and water to some of the most remote neighborhoods.

"The priority is the rescue of people who are still isolated," said Alexandre Aragon, head of the Brazilian National Security Force, which is aiding in the recovery. "We have to take advantage of this break in the weather to help people in these remote, collapsed areas."

Rio state's Civil Defense department said on its website late Sunday that the death toll reached 633 between the cities of Teresopolis, Nova Friburgo, Petropolis and Sumidouro.

The death toll has risen daily as more bodies are pulled from the mud.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41115436/ns/world_news-americas/#

Brazil's morgues filled from flooding

UPI.com,  Jan. 15, 2011

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- Morgues in Brazil are filled beyond capacity with people killed in flooding, made worse by continuing persistent rain, officials said Saturday.

In the city of Teresopolis, the military set up a tent field hospital as officials upped the known death toll to 511, the BBC reported. However, emergency officials said many more people were killed and buried in mudslides in the mountainous area and their bodies have not been found.

Rain that began earlier this week was forecast to continue for several more days, adding to the floodwaters that washed away entire villages, the report said.
At least 5,000 people have been left homeless by the floods, the worst Brazil has seen since 1967, the report said.

The number of bodies around Teresopolis filled the local morgues to capacity and bodies were being processed in police stations and churches, the broadcaster said.

© 2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2011/01/15/Brazils-morgues-filled-from-flooding/UPI-15121295099244/

 

Brazil mudslides kill at least 335, destroy towns

'There are so many disappeared — and so many that will probably never be found'

The Associated Press, Jan. 13, 2011

RIO DE JANEIRO — Driving rains sent tons of rusty red earth sliding into mountain towns, killing at least 335 people and leaving dozens more missing, Brazilian media reported Thursday.

Hillsides and river banks in the picturesque Serrana region north of Rio de Janeiro buckled under about 10 inches of rain — the equivalent of a month's rainfall in 24 hours — destroying houses and killing many people early Wednesday, rescue officials said.

Television footage showed many houses buried in mud as desperate residents and rescue workers searched for survivors.
"There was no way of telling which house would fall. Rich and poor — everything was destroyed," resident Fernanda Carvalho was quoted as saying by the Globo network's website.

In the hardest-hit town of Teresopolis, hundreds of family members crowded at a morgue Wednesday night waiting to identify bodies. Officials there raised the death toll from 130 to 146, Globo reported.

The death toll in the region was expected to rise as firefighters reached remote valleys and steep mountainsides where neighborhoods were destroyed, Teresopolis's mayor said. About 1,000 people there were left homeless.

"I saw six bodies on my street," said 53-year-old Antonio Venancio, whose house was inundated with mud but remained standing. "We just don't know what to do in the face of something so horrible."

At least 34 people were killed in neighboring Petropolis and 155 in the town of Nova Friburgo, Globo reported, citing local officials.
About 800 search-and-rescue workers from the state's civil defense department and firefighters dug for survivors.

'Died while they were sleeping'
 
Before rescue attempts were called off because of darkness, searchers used heavy machinery, shovels and bare hands trying to find survivors. In one town, firefighters rescued a 25-year-old man who held his 6-month-old son for 15 hours until they were both pulled out alive. The man's wife and mother-in-law were feared dead.

"I believe the number of dead is much more than was announced so far," Rio state environment secretary Carlos Minc was quoted as saying by Globo television after he flew over the region. "Many people died while they were sleeping."

About 50 people were believed missing just in Teresopolis, Mayor Jorge Mario said.

"Rescue teams are still arriving in the areas that have been worst affected," he said.

Minc described what he saw as a "striking tragedy," Globo reported. "From what I saw here today I can say [it] is the biggest catastrophe in the history of Teresopolis," he continued.

Heavy rains and mudslides kill hundreds of people across Brazil each year, especially during the South American summer. The worst hit are the poor, whose rickety homes are often built on steep slopes with weak or no foundations.

In Teresopolis, about 62 miles north of Rio, deluges filled creeks and the overflows swept over already water-logged mountainsides. Brick and wooden shacks built on hillsides stripped of trees washed away in surging earth and water, leaving behind only a long trail of mud.

Floodwaters continued to gush down the mountains for hours after rainstorms ended Wednesday. Survivors waded through waist-high water, carrying what belongings they could, trying to reach higher ground. Many tried desperately to find relatives, though phone service was out in the region and many people were still missing hours after the rain stopped.

"There are so many disappeared — and so many that will probably never be found," said Angela Marina de Carvalho Silva, a resident of Teresopolis who feared she may have lost 15 relatives, including five nieces and nephews.

"There was nothing we could do. It was hell," she said in a telephone interview.

Carvalho Silva took refuge in a neighbor's house on high ground with her husband and daughter, and watched the torrential rain carry away cars, tree branches and animals and rip apart the homes of friends and family.

"It's over. There's nothing. The water came down and swept everything away," said her husband, Sidney Silva.

Among the dead in Nova Friburgo were four firefighters who were helping in the rescue effort. Three other firefighters were listed as missing after their fire truck was hit by a mudslide.

President Dilma Rousseff signed a measure Wednesday sending $461 million to towns in Rio and Sao Paulo states that were damaged during the recent rains. The money will go to repairing infrastructure and preventing future disasters.

Heavy rainfall also caused havoc earlier in Minas Gerais state north of Rio, where 16 people died in the past month and dozens of communities are in a state of emergency.

In Sao Paulo, flooding paralyzed main thoroughfares in the capital city since Sunday and 21 people died in collapsed homes, mudslides and flooding throughout the state.

Rio state Gov. Sergio Cabral called on the navy to lend helicopters to firefighters working as rescuers.

"We mourn the loss of lives in this tragedy caused by the rain," Cabral said in a statement.
 
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
 
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Torrential rain, mudslides kill in Brazil kill 140

Rescuers struggle to dig through tons of mud and debris in a search for survivors

The Associated Press, Jan. 12, 2011
 
RIO DE JANEIRO — Torrential summer rains tore through Rio de Janeiro state's mountains, killing at least 140 people in 24 hours, Brazilian officials said Wednesday. Rescuers using heavy machinery, shovels and bare hands struggled to dig through tons of mud
and debris in a search for survivors.

In Teresopolis, a town 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of Rio, flash floods tossed cars into trees and mudslides poured tons of red earth over houses below. At least 114 died, according to a local Civil Defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to release the information. She added that 10 inches (26 centimeters) of rain fell on the town during 24 hours.
 
Survivors waded through waist-high water, carrying what belongings they could, trying to reach higher ground. Flood water continued to flow down the mountains, though rains had stopped.

"I've lived here 25 years and I've never seen anything like it," Teresopolis citizen Manoel Rocha Sobrinho told the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper. "I live on high ground and when I looked below, I only saw a sea of mud. Most people saved themselves by climbing trees."

With the new disasters, nearly 2000 people have died since Christmas across the southeastern portions of the country.

The mayor of Teresopolis decreed a state of emergency, calling the calamity "the worst to hit the town." About 800 search and rescue workers from the state's civil defense department and firefighters dug for survivors.

"There was no saying what would collapse. Rich people's homes, poor people's homes. Everything was destroyed," Fernanda Carvalho, 27, a house cleaner, told Globo TV.

In neighboring Petropolis, 18 people were confirmed dead by the city's mayor.

The death toll in the region is expected to rise as firefighters reach remote valleys and steep mountainsides where neighborhoods were destroyed, said Jorge Mario Sedlacek, the mayor of Teresopolis. About 1,000 there were left homeless.

"This is the largest catastrophe in the history of this town," said Sedlacek in an interview with Globo TV.

Eight people died in the neighboring mountain town of Nova Friburgo, including four firefighters who were engaged in the rescue effort, according to a statement by Rio de Janeiro state's civil defense authorities. One fire truck was hit by a landslide, and three firefighters remained missing Wednesday.

An elderly couple have died in Petropolis, also in Rio's Serra dos Orgaos mountains.

Heavy rainfall also caused havoc earlier in Minas Gerais state, where 16 people died in the last month and scores of communities are in a state of emergency.

In Sao Paulo, flooding paralyzed main thoroughfares in the capital city since Sunday and 21 people died in collapsed homes, mudslides and flooding throughout the state.

Rio state Gov. Sergio Cabral called on the navy to lend helicopters to firefighters working as rescuers.

"We mourn the loss of lives in this tragedy caused by the rain," said Cabral in a statement.

The storm ended Wednesday morning, but the water-logged terrain remains unstable and a threat to communities built on the steep hillsides.

Intense summer rain often causes landslides and sudden flooding across Brazil, threatening especially the slums often precariously built on steep mountainsides.

Last April, 214 people died when heavy rain unleashed a mudslide, swallowing 40 homes in a hillside shantytown.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
 
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41042622/ns/world_news-americas/#