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Rio de Janiero landslide rescuers offer little hope of survivors

April 8th, 2010

Photo: Vladimir Platonow, Agencia Brasil

Photo: Vladimir Platonow, Agencia Brasil

Rescue services say they have almost given up hope of finding any survivors following a landslide in Rio de Janeiro that buried an estimated 200 people on Wednesday night.

“We as firefighters always say that we work thinking that we are going to find people alive,” fire service spokesman Colonel José Paulo Miranda said.

“In this situation, in this type of incident, it’s very difficult. There is not the slightest chance that people get away quickly and there is the problem of being buried. We have very little hope, the difficulty is very great,” he added.

Around 50 makeshift homes are believed to have been washed down a hillside, previously housing a waste dump in the Niterói neighbourhood, which is more known for its affluence. TV pictures showed traumatised residents alongside rescue workers.

Shantytowns known as favelas that have increasingly sprouted on hillsides in Rio de Janeiro and other towns and cities across Brazil since the 1950’s are no stranger to this type of tragedy.

The mixture of heavy rains causing mudslides and flimsy accommodation thrown up without any attempt to sink foundations, in areas often flouting planning laws, has become a recipe for disaster.

“The area is a risk and never should have been inhabited,” said Rio de Janiero state Environment Secretary Marilene Ramos.

Rescuers who have been hauling out bodies have been battling precarious conditions as the ground threatens to give way with periods of sunshine of punctuated by bursts of heavy showers.

Record rainfall began lashing down on Monday causing landslides in the city and greater Rio de Janeiro causing chaos as makeshift housing slid down slopes, underground train stations were flooded and electricity supplies cut off.

More than three thousand people have been left homeless by flooding inside and outside the city, with the confirmed death toll so far reaching 175.

Brazil’s federal government on Thursday released R$200 million ($112 million) to help victims. Authorities in the city are asking for emergency payments of R$370 million ($207 million).

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Rio floods death toll reaches 131, initial cost put at $200 million

April 7th, 2010

Photo: Agencia Brasil

Photo: Agencia Brasil

The official death toll from the floods that overwhelmed the city of Rio de Janeiro and its surrounding state this week has reached 131 people.

Record rainfall that began on Monday afternoon led to landslides in the city and greater Rio de Janeiro causing chaos as makeshift housing was washed away from hillsides, underground train stations were flooded and electricity supplies cut off.

Thousands have been left homeless outside and inside the city, where more unusually, affluent areas such as Tijuca were also affected.

In Niterói, one driver whose car was carrying a family of passengers reportedly died in an area noted for its mansion houses when land gave way.

More than a 140 flights to and from Rio’s Santos Dumont airport were cancelled, while many vehicle owners simply abandoned them in the street.

Mopping up operations are underway after flooding left schools, shops and other businesses at a standstill.

Coming during the traditionally slow Easter holiday period when the public heads for the beach, store owners in Rio de Janeiro estimate the cost of lost business at R$ 190 million ($107 million).

Rio de Janeiro state governor Sérgio Cabral and city Mayor Eduardo Paes have presented Brazil’s federal government with a 38-point emergency plan of action to address flood damage. The mayor is asking for around R$370 million ($207 million) for emergency running repairs.

Meantime, authorities say the flooding should not be used as an excuse to increase the price of fruit and vegetables because affected areas are not used for farming.

Though six years away, some say the floods put a question mark over Rio’s capacity to host the 2016 Olympic Games.

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