By Patricia Maresch, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Two months after the tragedy in the mountainous region of the State of Rio de Janeiro, known as Região Serrana, 345 people remain missing in four cities. So far 916 bodies have been recovered, victims from the flooding and mudslides in January as a result from torrential rains and the worst weather-related tragedy in Brazil’s history.
About 30,000 survivors have been displaced or remain homeless. Schools, gyms and churches still function as shelters. Hospitals are less crowded now fortunately, since most of the wounded have recovered.
Two weeks after the tragedy, diseases such as leptospirosis – caused by contact with rat urine – began to plague the population, until the authorities came into action, monitoring patients and taking preventive measures.
Basic utilities, such as water, electricity and telephone services are now functioning again. The time it’s taking to reconstruct washed away roads and collapsed bridges is taking a toll on the population’s patience however.
“It’s insane,” complained a man from Petrópolis to a local newspaper, “In Japan it took them six days to rebuild a road that was ruined by the tsunami and earthquake. But here in Brazil, nothing happens because of bureaucracy.”
Landslides damaged around forty highways in the region, some more severe than others. Route BR-495, between Teresópolis and Petrópolis, reopened for traffic, even though there are several very dangerous stretches with loose asphalt, holes and slippery parts.
The Department of Transport Infrastructure admits the road is not entirely safe, but released it for traffic anyway, with barriers on both sides. The department warned drivers to be extra careful and asked the highway police to have more patrols than usual.
There are also delays in the building of new houses and with the distribution of loans to businesses who have been damaged in the tragedy.
A spokesperson in Brasília says the government is struggling to acquire land for the construction of new homes. “It is a mountainous region with few areas available, which complicates things,” the spokesman said.
President Dilma Rousseff ordered 6,000 houses to be built through the federal PAC project Minha Casa, Minha Vida (My House, My Life). In addition, 2,000 more homes are donations from twelve private construction companies.
Owners of small and midsized businesses in the region are complaining about the huge amounts of red tape surrounding bank loans to reconstruct their shops and businesses. “Bureaucracy has tripled,” claims the owner of a lingerie factory from Nova Friburgo who requested credit.
Many frustrated residents claim the bureaucracy has grown instead of diminished: “They say that applications are approved on the day of application, but it takes much longer and there are many requirements to meet. Some local businesses are on the verge of bankruptcy.”
The Emergency Program for Reconstruction of the State said that applications are reviewed and approved much faster than normal. According to the Program’s balance, US$51 million has been distributed through the BNDES bank to 1,255 firms, mostly in Nova Friburgo. In total there is US$108 million reserved to help damaged businesses in the Região Serrana.