Rio de Janeiro state government has confirmed 105 deaths from the floods and mudslides that swept away homes and cars in the city of Petrópolis, with the number of people still trapped in the mud unclear.
Rubens Bomtempo, mayor of the city, was not able to offer an estimate for how many people were missing, as recovery efforts continued. “We don’t yet know the full scale of this,” Bomtempo said. “It was a hard day, a difficult day.”
Survivors were digging to find loved ones who disappeared after Tuesday’s landslides. Rio de Janeiro’s public prosecutors’ office said it had compiled a list of 35 missing people.
Footage posted on social media showed torrents dragging cars and houses through the streets as water swirled through the city. One video showed two buses sinking into a swollen river as its passengers clambered out of the windows. Some were washed away before they could make it to the banks.
Petrópolis, a city in the mountains named for a 19th-century emperor, Dom Pedro II, has been a refuge for local people escaping the summer heat and for tourists.
Its prosperity drew residents from Rio’s poorer regions and the population grew haphazardly, climbing mountainsides in small homes packed tightly together, often in areas made vulnerable by deforestation and inadequate drainage.
The state fire department said 25.8cm (just over 10in) of rain had fallen in three hours on Tuesday, almost as much as the previous 30 days’ total. Rio de Janeiro’s governor, Cláudio Castro, said in a press conference that the rains were the worst in Petrópolis since 1932. “No one could predict rain as hard as this,” Castro said.
More rain was expected this week, weather forecasters said.
Castro said almost 400 people were homeless and 24 people had been rescued.
One resident, Rosilene Virginia, said: “It’s very sad to see people asking for help and having no way of helping, no way of doing anything. It’s desperate, a feeling of loss so great.”
The mountain region has seen similar catastrophes in recent decades, including one that caused more than 900 deaths. In the years since, Petrópolis presented a plan to reduce risks of landslides, but works have advanced only slowly. The plan, presented in 2017, was based on analysis determining that 18% of the city’s territory was at high risk of landslides and flooding.
Local authorities say more than 180 residents from at-risk areas were sheltering in schools. More equipment and personnel was expected to help rescue efforts on Thursday.
Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, expressed solidarity while on a trip to Russia. Petrópolis’s city hall declared three days of mourning.
South-eastern Brazil has endured heavy rains since the start of the year, with more than 40 deaths recorded in total in Minas Gerais state in early January and São Paulo state later that month.