Officials in Brazil said Wednesday that at least 78 people have died in landslides and floods in a mountainous area of Rio de Janeiro state.
The city of Petrópolis was hit by a strong rainstorm on Tuesday. Mayor Rubens Bomtempo said the number of dead could rise as rescuers searched carefully through the wreckage.
Witness Rosilene Virgilio was crying as she remembered the calls for help from a woman she could not 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."
Petrópolis is a German-influenced city named for a former emperor. It is in the mountains above the city of Rio. For almost two hundred years, it has been a vacation place for people escaping summer heat. There are large, older homes of the wealthy along its waterways. Its mountainsides are covered with homes placed closely together. Some of them lack good foundations.
Governor Claudio Castro told reporters Wednesday that the situation “was almost like war.” He said he was deploying all of the state government’s heavy machinery to dig out the buried area.
The affected mountain region has seen similar disasters in recent years, including one that caused more than 900 deaths. In the years since, Petrópolis presented a plan to reduce risks of landslides, but progress has been slow.
The state fire department said late Tuesday the area got 25.8 centimeters of rain within three hours Tuesday. That is almost as much as during the previous 30 days combined.
Video on social media showed the landslide carrying away cars and houses. They also showed water moving through Petrópolis and neighboring areas. The Globo television network showed houses buried beneath mud in some places.
Several streets remained cut off on Wednesday. Cars and household goods washed into lower parts of the city, blocking the way to get to higher places.
"The neighbors came down running and I gave them shelter," bar owner Emerson Torre said.
But under rivers of water, his roof collapsed. He managed to get his mother and three other people out of the bar in time, but one neighbor 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 flew overhead. "Every neighbor has lost a loved one, has lost two, three, four members of the same family..."
Petrópolis' city hall declared three days of mourning. Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, who is on a trip to Russia, said on social media that he told his ministers to deliver immediate support to the families of the victims.
Southeastern Brazil has been having heavy rains since the start of the year. More than 40 deaths were recorded in Minas Gerais state and São Paulo state in January.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Diarlei Rodrigues reported on this story for the Associated Press. Jill Robbins adapted it for Learning English.
Words in This Story
mudslide / landslide – n. movement of dirt because of heavy rain
wreckage – n. what remains of something severely damaged
gush – v. to flow out very quickly and in large amounts
unfortunately – adv. used to say that something bad or unlucky has happened
foundation – n. a usually stone or concrete structure that supports a building from underneath
avalanche – n. a large amount of snow and ice or of dirt and rocks that slides suddenly down the side of a mountain
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