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2010-04-08

Rains pummel Rio

By Danielle Melo for Infosurhoy.com—08/04/2010

One newspaper reporter’s trip home turns into a journey

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People walk along the wall of the Botanic Garden while holding on to the railing for support in Rio de Janeiro after the city was flooded by heavy rains. (Antonio Scorza/AFP/Getty Images)

People walk along the wall of the Botanic Garden while holding on to the railing for support in Rio de Janeiro after the city was flooded by heavy rains. (Antonio Scorza/AFP/Getty Images)

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – The week began with my usual routine: I woke up around 7 a.m., went to the gym and then to Spanish class.

Soon after lunch, I arrived at the O Globo newspaper’s newsroom, in downtown Rio de Janeiro, where I work.

Monday, April 5, was a quiet day with no big news – until 5:30 p.m., when heavy rains started to fall.

The rain trapped everyone returning home from work. Little by little, news of overflowing streets and landslides began to filter into the newsroom.

Quickly, the newspaper put together a special team of reporters to cover the natural disaster.

Since I work in the economy section, I wasn’t directly involved in the coverage, but I certainly was by the storm.

The second edition of the economy section went to press at 11:15 p.m., as usual. We barely had finished for the day when I grabbed my purse and went to the front gate to grab a taxi.

There were tons of them in the street, but none wanted to venture along the flooded roads. By this point, there were lots of stories of stranded motorists.

A friend of mine suggested we walk to the closest metro station, about four or five blocks away from the newspaper.

The decision had to be made quickly because the metro closes at midnight.

Now, I was frightened.

To get to the station, we had to pass through high waters where we could twist an ankle or run the risk of being accosted.

There already had been numerous accounts of assaults.

I decided to go back to the office and wait, along with many other colleagues.

My colleagues who drove to work gave co-workers who lived nearby rides home.

When they arrived at their destination, they called to give tips on how to maneuver around the streets that had been hardest hit.

Around 1:30 a.m. and tired of waiting, I decided to grab a ride with a co-worker.

There was no way to go through the Rebouças tunnel, the main connection between the northern and southern parts of the city. The rain had caused a huge traffic jam and the water that had accumulated at the end of the tunnel made getting through it nearly impossible.

So we decided to take an alternative route, as we turned around and headed for the Santa Barbara tunnel.

But we weren’t the only ones who used this route, as heavy traffic coupled with the lack of police and transit officers made the journey take even longer.

Because the colleague who had given me a ride lived in Flamengo, a neighborhood in the south of Rio, at least I had transportation until there. But to get to Copacabana, where I live, I still had to go through the Botafogo neighborhood.

Then I got lucky: I signaled for a taxi.

And it stopped!

The problem was getting through Botafogo. We tried to go along secondary streets, but cars were coming back the other way, indicating there was no way to pass up ahead because of the depth of the water.

We went back and forth a number of times until I was able to convince the taxi driver to go along Botafogo beach, in front of Guanabara Bay, which usually floods when it rains.

The taxi practically swam to get to the other side of the street. We went up onto the sidewalk and were able to reach the wide lanes of the embankment, which had just a few puddles.

From there, it was only a few minutes to my house.

But the story didn’t end there. My sister Fernanda, who works in Tijuca on the north side of the city, still hadn’t managed to get home.

She was caught in a traffic jam. With flooding at various points throughout Rio, traffic had become a knot that wasn’t undone until the morning of April 6.

Without any alternative, Fernanda spent the night in her car. Around 6 a.m., she decided to abandon her vehicle and walk to the nearest metro station, which opened an hour earlier.

She did not get home until 8:30 am, exhausted. Throughout the ordeal we were talking by cell phone. Because of the rain, landline telephones had been rendered useless on April 5.

The next day, with an informal holiday declared by Mayor Eduardo Paes, the city’s confusion had lessened.

But landslides kept happening — and the death toll began to rise.

At last count there were 154 dead in the state.

Today, it is sunny outside my window.

But the forecast for the weekend does not look good.

After the biggest rain to hit the city in recent times, authorities are predicting a sort of aftershock, with big waves up to five meters starting on April 9.

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