‘State of disaster’ as heavy rains trigger deadly landslides, flooding in hills above Rio de Janeiro

At least 38 people have died in mudslides and floods when torrential rains swept a mountainous region of Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro state, local authorities said, amid fears the death toll could rise as searchers continued to check damaged areas.

The city of Petropolis was slammed by a deluge on Tuesday, and Mayor Rubens Bomtempo said the number of dead could rise as searchers picked through the wreckage.

Video posted on social media showed cars and houses being dragged away by landslides, and water swirling through Petropolis and neighboring districts. The Globo television network showed houses buried beneath mud in areas firefighters had not yet been able to access.

The deaths come as southeastern Brazil has been punished with heavy rains since the start of the year, with more than 40 deaths recorded between incidents in Minas Gerais state in early January and Sao Paulo state later the same month.

The state fire department said more than 180 soldiers were working in the stricken Petropolis region, which got 25.8 centimetres (more than 10 inches) of rain within three hours on Tuesday – almost as much as during the previous 30 days combined.

Petropolis’s city hall said in a statement the heavy rains left “a high number of incidents and victims” and that rescue and recovery efforts were under way

Rosilene Virgilio, 49, was in tears as she recalled the pleas for help from a woman she couldn’t save.

“Yesterday there was a woman screaming, ‘Help! Get me out of here!’ But we couldn’t do anything; the water was gushing out, the mud was gushing out,” Virgilio told the Associated Press. “Our city unfortunately is finished.”

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is on a trip to Russia, said on Twitter he had instructed the government to deliver immediate support to the afflicted.

“May God comfort the family members of the victims,” he wrote

Petropolis’ city hall declared three days of mourning.

Petropolis is a German-influenced city named for a former emperor. Nestled in the mountains above the coastal metropolis, for almost two centuries it has been a refuge for people escaping summer heat and tourists keen to explore Brazil’s “Imperial City.” It features stately mansions along its waterways, but its mountainsides are covered with homes packed tightly together, some of which lack proper foundations

Governor Claudio Castro said that he was mustering all the state government’s heavy machinery to help dig out the buried area. He told journalists that soldiers were already working in the stricken region, which saw almost more than 900 deaths from heavy rainfall in January 2011.
Several streets remained inaccessible Wednesday as cars and household goods piled up, blocking access to higher parts of the city

“The neighbours came down running and I gave them shelter,” bar owner Emerson Torre, 39, recalled.

But under torrents of water, his roof collapsed. He managed to get his mother and three other people out of the bar in time, but one neighbour and the person’s daughter were unable to escape.

“It was like an avalanche, it fell all at once. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Torre told the AP as rescue helicopters hovered overhead. “Every neighbour has lost a loved one, has lost two, three, four members of the same family, kids.

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