By Maria Lopez Conde, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Torrential rains on Tuesday and Wednesday wreaked havoc in the city and state of Rio de Janeiro, flooding streets, metro stations and closing airports. At least two people died during the heavy rains that poured down much of the state this week.
Over two thousand families from the Baixada Fluminense, part of the city of Rio’s poorer metropolitan area, requested assistance from local governments. According to the State Secretariat of Social Assistance and Human Rights, the majority of those displaced by the downpours have now returned home.
Earlier this week, Rio city authorities urged the residents of 43 hillside communities to evacuate those areas in order to seek shelter. The federal government said it would send in police to prevent looting that was reported, and the Rio state government asked for assistance in providing food and shelter for some 2,000 families that were driven from their homes by flooding, according to Reuters.
The city’s mountainous geography, combined with poor urban planning, inadequate draining systems, as well as a lack of affordable housing, have led to a large number of precariously built homes in dangerous areas that are especially prone to mudslides during the rainy season. In 2011, heavy rains caused mudslides in mountains around Rio, leaving 900 dead, as per the AP.
Officials said different neighborhoods of Rio received up to 5 inches (124 millimeters) in a few hours on Wednesday. The heavy downpours subsided by Wednesday afternoon, but a light drizzle still soaked most of the city until the end of the working week.
The heavy rains closed Rio city’s domestic airport, Santos Dumont, temporarily, canceling and delaying flights to and from the Rio. Flooded streets and heavier traffic as a result led mayor Eduardo Paes to ask Cariocas to stay home until the rains came to an end. The legendary Maracanã, the stadium set to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup final, was also affected by the downpour.
Early December is known to bring rains to the city, but the damage caused by the intensity of the torrential downpour once again highlighted fears over Rio de Janeiro’s ability to deal with inclement weather, especially before the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, when the city is set to receive thousands of visitors.
In July of this year, flooding due to prolonged rainfall forced World Youth Day organizers to relocate their events. A few hours of rain back in May caused much pandemonium in Rio, closing Santos Dumont airport and leading to power outages.
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