By Doug Gray, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Monday night saw intense rains fall on Rio de Janeiro which continued throughout Tuesday, flooding roads, causing landslides, and prompting city mayor Eduardo Paes to recommend Cariocas not to attempt their journeys to work or school on Tuesday morning.
Winds up to 75km/hour struck the city and heavy rains refused to relent for over 24 hours. The death toll had reached 77 across the state by 2PM on Tuesday with many more injured or feared missing.
Those Cariocas fortunate enough to make it home on Monday awoke on Tuesday morning to find main roads under several feet of water and major arteries between the north and south zones impassable. In Praça da Bandeiras in Zona Norte, water levels passed over the roofs of abandoned cars, and higher grounds and gas stations became parking lots.
Workers attempting to return home were trapped overnight on buses and in their cars with the Aterro impassable, Rua Jardim Botanico entirely under water, and the Lagoa and Tunel Rebouças severely flooded. The Brazilian women’s volleyball team was trapped without food in a flooded Maracanãzinho after a training session and their scheduled game in the Superliga had to be canceled.
The death toll rose throughout Tuesday as landslides hit Tijuca, Recreio and the favela Morro dos Macacos and still more were missing or injured as the authorities mobilized to try and reverse the chaotic situation unravelling as the fire department fought to seize control.
Appearing on morning television, mayor Eduardo Paes led calls for the people of Rio to stay at home and not to try and get to work or take children to school, declaring a state of high alert in the city.
“Critical points of the city are under water so we ask the population of the city not to leave their homes and we are working to resolve the problems… water levels are three times the normal level so take care and pay attention,” he said in an emergency television interview.
Holidaymakers returning from the Easter break had already endured a terrible day of delayed, canceled and diverted flights via Sao Paulo on Monday, but the closure of Rio’s airports on Tuesday multiplied the problems still further for thousands of passengers.
The Rio-Niteroi bridge was closed eastward in the height of rush hour on Tuesday morning due to flooding, and several neighborhoods were left without power including Copacabana, Urca, Jardim Botanico, Botafogo and Barra.
The city power company Light recommended that nobody use elevators throughout Tuesday to avoid the risk of becoming trapped should electricity fail in other areas.
After one of the hottest summers on record, Autumn began with heavy storms last week when Copacabana saw more rain in one night than during the whole of February. During one storm last Monday, Inpe registered 1,952 discharges of lightening, and impressive electrical storms have become the norm during recent evenings.
The cold front which caused Monday’s storms was expected to maintain its grip over Rio until the end of the week with heavy rains forecast and in excess of 100mm still to fall, and meteorologists are increasing observations and monitoring of the situation throughout the week.