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2010-04-09

Rio now facing breakers and more rain

By Fabiane Dal-Ri for Infosurhoy.com – 09/04/2010

The worst storm in 44 years killed at least 183

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Here’s how Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas and Epitácio Pessoa Avenue looked before heavy rains pummeled Rio de Janeiro. (Courtesy of Tim McGarvey)

Here’s how Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas and Epitácio Pessoa Avenue looked before heavy rains pummeled Rio de Janeiro. (Courtesy of Tim McGarvey)

WASHINGTON D.C., U.S.A. – They already are 183.

But there are expected to be more corpses uncovered as rescue teams dig for survivors in homes buried in the mud throughout the state of Rio de Janeiro.

While big waves caused by recent storms hit tourist sites in the city of Rio de Janeiro on April 9, the state mourned for the victims of the worst storm in 44 years.

In the capital, 56 lost their lives, whereas in the neighboring city of Niterói, 107 died and 16 casualties were confirmed in São Gonçalo, about 18 miles east of Rio.

The mudslide that hit a slum in Niterói during the evening of April 6 likely will raise the death toll.

At least 50 homes on Bumba hill were affected in what is considered the worst rain-induced tragedy in the city’s history, as its landslides buried at least 200 residents, civil defense officials told newspaper O Dia.

So far, a team of 170 of firemen and other rescue personnel pulled 25 survivors and 17 bodies from the slum, according to G1.

“Based on our experience, the victims died instantly,” Pedro Machado, the state’s civil defense undersecretary, told G1. “It is very difficult to find anyone alive. Differently from the earthquake in Haiti, where buildings collapsed having people trapped in air bubbles, here they were under a huge amount of land. When it slides, it takes over the whole area.”

The tragedy caused Jorge Roberto Silveira, Niterói’s mayor, to declare a state of public calamity on April 8 and a week-long official mourning. After officials inspected the area on Bumba hill, 60 houses were declared unsafe, forcing people to evacuate their homes since more landslides are expected, as rain fell on April 8.

In Rio, mayor Eduardo Paes announced on April 9 an emergency plan to prevent against future storms. On April 6, the federal government allocated R$90 million (US$50.8 million) to fund projects to protect the city from heavy rains.

Containing hill areas to prevent landslides and dredging rivers to control their overflow are among Paes’ priorities.

“We cannot wait anymore,” Paes told O Dia. “Regardless the money from the federal government, we already have started to work. We’ll try to deal with emergency situations and save lives.”

On April 6, he issued a decree that gives officials the power to remove people who refuse to evacuate their homes when ordered.

Since Dec. 31 when landslides turned New Year’s celebration into a calamity in Angra dos Reis, 256 have died in the state of Rio, according to civil defense officials, who claim six million have been impacted by the catastrophes, including 418 being injured, 7,221 rendered homeless and 24,336 who sought shelter with friends or relatives.

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