117 Dead in Mudslides, 116 Still Unaccounted For

Tragedy in Brazil also leaves hundreds homeless
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 17, 2022 8:23 PM CST
Death Toll in Brazil Mudslides Hits 117
A youth carries a fan as he and other residents evacuate the area on the second day of rescue efforts after mudslides in Petropolis, Brazil, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022.   (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

The death toll from floods and landslides that swept down on the mountain city of Petropolis rose to at least 117 on Thursday and local officials said it could still rise sharply, with 116 more still unaccounted for. The Rio de Janeiro state government confirmed the rising loss of life, with many feared buried in mud beneath the German-influenced city nestled in the mountains above the city of Rio de Janeiro, the AP reports. Torrents of floodwaters and mudslides dragged cars and houses through the streets of the city Tuesday during the most intense rainfall in decades. One video showed two buses sinking into a swollen river as its passengers clambered out the windows, scrambling for safety. Some didn’t make it to the banks and were washed away, out of sight. Nearly 400 people were left homeless.

Survivors dug through the ruined landscape to find loved ones even as more landslides appeared likely on the city's slopes. A small slide Thursday prompted an evacuation but didn't cause injuries. As evening came, heavy showers returned to the region, sparking renewed concern among residents and rescue workers. Authorities insisted those living in at-risk areas should evacuate. As some people tried to clear away mud, others began burying lost relatives, with 17 funerals at the damaged cemetery. Rio police said in a statement Thursday that about 200 agents were checking lists of the living, the dead and the missing by visiting checkpoints and shelters, as well as the city's morgue. They said they managed to remove three people from a list of missing after finding them alive in a local school.

Petropolis, named for a former Brazilian emperor, has been a refuge for people escaping the summer heat and tourists keen to explore the so-called “Imperial City.” Its prosperity has also drawn residents from Rio’s poorer regions and the population grew haphazardly, climbing mountainsides now covered with small residences packed tightly together, often in areas made more vulnerable by deforestation and inadequate drainage. The state fire department said just over 10 inches of rain fell within three hours on Tuesday—almost as much as during the previous 30 days combined. Rio de Janeiro’s Gov. Claudio Castro said in a press conference that the rains were the worst Petropolis has received since 1932. More rain was expected through the rest of the week.

(More Brazil stories.)

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