Disasters & Accidents

Death toll at 10 after rock slab collapses, strikes tour boats in Brazil

Sao Paulo, Jan 9 (EFE).- The death toll has risen to 10 after part of cliff overlooking a lake in southeastern Brazil collapsed on the weekend onto several pleasure boats, authorities said on Sunday.

Rescue teams found the body of a man submerged in the lake at the accident site in the municipality of Capitolio, in southeastern Minas Gerais state, the spokesman for the local fire department, Pedro Aihara, told reporters.

Later, they located the bodies of two other people who were still missing after the tragedy, and Minas Gerais Fire Department Commander Giuvaine Barbosa said at a press conference that rescue and recovery crews will continue working to fully recover the bodies, but he emphasized that they do not believe there are any people remaining missing.

The 10 people who died were riding in the same boat, the Jesus, at the time of the accident, Civil Police chief Marcos Pimenta said, adding that authorities were having serious difficulties identifying the dead due to the severity of the impact.

Besides the 10 people killed, 32 other people were injured, most of them only slightly although four people remain hospitalized.

The incident, which was recorded on their cellphones by some of the other tourists in the area, occurred about 11 am on Saturday when an enormous slab of rock broke loose from the wall of the canyon and fell onto boats carrying tourists on Lake Furnas.

A video circulating on social media shows the moments before the impact, as the boats nearest the cliff face attempted to move away from the shore amid warning cries from the occupants of craft just outside the danger zone that the rock face was beginning to crack and break away.

Two of the three boats struck by the giant slab of rock when it came tumbling down were completely submerged.

Firefighters initially reported that 20 people were missing in the wake of the accident, but a few hours later they reduced that figure considerably after they managed to contact the great majority of the supposedly missing people.

Participating in the search and rescue efforts are “more than 50” members of the Fire Department, the police, the Brazilian navy and Civil Defense agency, in an operation involving 11 divers who are familiar with the lake and especially with rescue operations, Aihara said.

The canyons around the lake are formed by sedimentary rock that is “more susceptible to the action of wind and rain,” Aihara told GloboNews television, adding that “We are in a very rainy period, which could have accelerated the penetration of the water in the rock structure.”

The site where the accident occurred is a well-known tourist spot in Capitolio, a small town located about 280 kilometers (174 miles) from Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais and Brazil’s sixth largest city. It is famous for its natural beauty and impressive gorges, which can be visited on boats plying the lake.

Established in 1958 to power a hydroelectric plant, Lake Furnas draws thousands of weekend visitors to Capitolio.

The Brazilian navy has said it plans to investigate the tragedy, while Minas Gerais Gov. Romeu Zema offered condolences to loved ones of the victims, saying: “I stand with the families in this difficult moment. We will continue acting to provide the necessary support and protection.”

EFE cms/eat/bp

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