By Mark Beresford, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – The state government of Rio de Janeiro has closed off part of the popular tourist destination of Ilha Grande, following a series of landslides that have caused at least 68 deaths in the state, blocked roads across the coastal regions of Rio and Sao Paulo, and cast a shadow over the New Year celebrations.
There have so far been 47 confirmed deaths in the coastal area of Angra dos Reis, including 29 victims on the Praia do Bananal, in the north of the popular backpacker island Ilha Grande, where shortly after midnight on January 1st a mountain of mud crashed into the luxury Pousada Sankay lodge and surrounding houses.
Civil defense authorities have evacuated all tourists from the Praia do Bananal area and have closed the region to tourists, although the rest of Ilha Grande remains open to travelers.
Tourist businesses in the area are reporting high levels of cancellations from tourists who had booked vacations in Angra dos Reis and Ilha Grande.
Across Brazil, since December 30th, a total of 82 people have now died in mudslides caused by rainfall. Nearly 600 people have lost their homes in the town of Angra dos Reis alone, and rescue services are continuing to search for bodies, although there have so far been no reports of foreign victims.
Along the Costa Verde, the jungle-clad coast that runs south from Rio de Janeiro, the combination of high levels of rainfall from ocean clouds, thin and unstable topsoil, and housing that is often built illegally right at the bottom of steep hillsides, has proved lethal to residents and tourists alike.
In the three days leading up to New Years, the rainfall in Angra exceeded the average for the whole month of December, and, with more rain forecast, authorities are expecting further disruption to travel.
The main road from Rio to the port of Santos in Sao Paulo state, which provides access to the resorts all along the Costa Verde, has been partially blocked by the landslides in Angra. Authorities forecast that the road will not be operating normally for around three months, and warn that it could be closed in the event of further heavy rainfall.
Meanwhile, rainfall along the neighboring Sao Paulo coast has also triggered landslides and closed roads to popular beach resorts, while heavy rain in the Vale do Paraíba area in Sao Paulo state has destroyed an estimated 80 percent of the historic area of São Luiz do Paraitinga, including two churches, and left much of the town uninhabitable.
However, Eletronuclear, the operator of the two nuclear power plants located at Angra dos Reis, has denied a request by the town’s mayor to shut down the plants, which provide around 40 percent of the power in Rio. The mayor had said that the plants should be closed, as the landslides have blocked many of the routes, including the Rio-Santos road, which would be used to evacuate the population in an emergency.