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Friday, January 14, 2011

Brazil landslides death toll rises. More than 500 killed and thousands left homeless after mud devastates five towns north of Rio de Janeiro

Brazil landslides death toll rises.

More than 500 killed and thousands left homeless after mud devastates five towns north of Rio de Janeiro

Brazil's mudslides leave hundreds dead near Rio de Janeiro Link to this video
The death toll from some of the deadliest landslides in Brazilian history has continued to rise with at least 482 confirmed victims.
Nearly all of those killed were buried alive when avalanches of mud and debris smashed down on to their homes in the early hours of Wednesday. At least 13,000 people have been left homeless by the disaster, which focused on three towns in the mountains north of Rio de Janeiro.
"It is a very dramatic moment. The scenes are very powerful, the suffering is very visible and the risk is very serious," Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, said after a brief visit to the affected region.
Teresópolis, a bucolic tourist town about 60 miles north of Rio, was one of the hardest-hit areas: by tonight, at least 200 deaths had been confirmed. Local authorities were preparing to erect floodlights in the cemetery in order to hold round-the-clock burials. The town's streets filled with pick-up trucks packed with fleeing residents, carrying mattresses, duvets and pets.
In Campo Grande, a shantytown on the outskirts of Teresópolis that was almost completely enveloped by falling rubble and mud, residents claimed as many as 300 bodies had been buried after a dam burst, triggering a devastating landslide that consumed nearly everything in its path, tossing pick-up trucks into sitting rooms and a delivery truck into a tree.
"It's ugly, really ugly," said Vicente Luiz Florente, a 50-year-old builder who had travelled to the area in search of his brother's still buried body. "This was a community – now all you can see is rocks."
Metres up the road, rescue workers unearthed another five bodies, including a young child whose limp corpse was eventually tugged from the debris, wrapped in a black bin liner and dispatched to the local morgue in a mud-covered ambulance.
"We can't be certain about reducing the impact of the rains, but we cannot allow people to die – this is our mission," Rousseff said.
In Nova Friburgo, a neighbouring town of Teresópolis, at least 214 bodies have been recovered.
"This family no longer exists," read the headline of a Rio tabloid, alongside the photo of a prominent fashion designer and former Newsweek employee who was buried alongside eight relatives.
"It's a terrible scene," said a local judge, José Ricardo Ferreira de Aguiar, as he pulled back a black tarpaulin and stepped into Teresópolis's improvised mortuary – the garage of the town's police station.
On the concrete floor before him lay 100 bodies, among them newborn babies, toddlers, elderly women and teenagers. Caked in brown mud and draped with pieces of soggy cardboard, the bodies were piled in a confusion of arms and legs.
Relatives were led into the morgue in groups of four to identify bodies splayed out under pieces of cardboard, sheets and muddy duvets. Those that had already been identified had tatty paper ID tags tied on to their toes.
"There's no chance of even making this human," Aguiar said. "We've just never seen anything like it here."
Mario Sergio Macario, 22, a student who has been given the job of guarding the morgue's entrance, said several colleagues from his tourism course were missing.
"The station is chaos. It's a public calamity. I've never seen anything like it," he said.
About 1,000 people were left homeless as the waters smashed through Teresópolis. The mayor, Jorge Mario Sedlacek, decreed a state of emergency, calling the calamity "the worst to hit the town". About 800 search-and-rescue workers from the state's civil defence department and firefighters dug for survivors.
Marquinho Maia, a press officer who was helping out at the morgue, said tonight: "We pulled at least 16 bodies out this morning. Kids, old people. All dead. It's horrible. The city has never had so many fatalities.
"I've lost several friends. One of my friends still hasn't found his mum or his wife. Some areas have been completely destroyed."
Speaking after a helicopter flight over Teresópolis, Rio's environment secretary, Carlos Minc, described the mudslides as the worst catastrophe in the region's history.
"I believe the death toll is much higher than has been so far announced," he said. "Many people died in their sleep. The mountainsides are coming down. The areas are very unstable."
Fernanda Carvalho, a 27-year-old maid from the region, told the Guardian website that the disaster had drawn no distinction between rich and poor. "The rich man's house, the poor man's house: everything was destroyed," she said.
Helicopter images showed at least two stranded people desperately waving white shirts in an effort to be rescued. Nearby, a thick brown scar had been ripped through a residential area on the town's outskirts, uprooting trees and demolishing everything in its path.
"There are so many disappeared and so many that will probably never be found," said Angela Marina de Carvalho Silva, who believes she may have lost 15 relatives to the flood, including five nieces and nephews.
"There was nothing we could do. It was hell," she said in a telephone interview.
Carvalho Silva took refuge in a neighbour's house on high ground with her husband and daughter, and watched the torrential rain carry away cars, tree branches and animals and tear apart the homes of friends and family.
"It's over. There's nothing. The water came down and swept everything away," said her husband, Sidney Silva.

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