Disasters & Accidents

Search for missing continues in Brazilian city where storm killed 130

By Janaina Quinet

Petropolis, Brazil, Feb 18 (EFE).- For a third day, teams searched Brazil’s “Imperial City” on Friday for dozens of residents who remain missing after the heaviest rains in 90 years left 130 people dead.

“An image almost of war,” was how President Jair Bolsonaro described what he saw from a helicopter during a flight over Petropolis, named for Brazil’s last emperor, Pedro II.

And the danger has not passed. Sirens to warn of landslides continue to be heard on the slopes of Morro da Oficina, one of the hardest-hit areas in this city of some 300,000 people 68 km (42 mi) northeast of Rio de Janeiro city.

On a part of the hill where dozens of homes once stood, first responders and residents combed a giant mound of mud and debris, looked for signs of life.

Ana Maria Pereira, 49, who suspects her 16-year-old niece is buried under the mud of Morro da Oficina, credits her survival to the circumstance that she was selling candy on the street when the initial avalanche struck late Tuesday and was able to clamber to the top of a wall.

“I felt a lot of sadness seeing so many bodies,” she recounted to Efe.

The weather has remained unsettled. A downpour on Thursday brought more flooding and forced the evacuation of several neighborhoods.

Authorities have noted 436 landslides and say that more are likely as the forecast calls for additional heavy rain.

“I fear that Petropolis is finished,” Eva Barros, 42, told Efe.

The instability of the ground makes it difficult to send more search teams to the most precarious spots, Rio de Janeiro state Gov. Claudio Castro said in response to criticism that his government isn’t doing enough.

So far, 24 people have been rescued alive.

The funeral homes are full, but many businesses are closed and a large number of roads are impassable. More than 140 vehicles have been retrieved from flooded streets and from the two rivers that traverse Petropolis, the municipal government said.

Schools and churches have been transformed into temporary shelters for the more than 800 displaced residents and warehouses to hold donations of supplies.

Mayor Rubens Bomtempo said that his administration is working to restore essential services such as power, transport and trash collection.

Authorities cannot even agree on how many people are unaccounted for. While the police cite a figure of 218, the prosecutor’s office says the number is closer to 60.

Brazil’s defense minister, Gen. Walter Braga Netto, said that 820 military personnel have been deployed to Petropolis.

Around 100 people perished and 150,000 had to be evacuated due to storms in the states of Bahia, Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais over the last few months.

Experts warn that extreme weather will become more frequent as a result of climate change and a general absence of urban planning makes Brazilian cities particularly vulnerable to disasters.

Petropolis and other cities in the upland region of Rio state were battered in January 2011 by flooding and mudslides that killed 903 people. EFE cms-jq/dr

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