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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