By Sibel Tinar, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Flooding and mudslides resulting from last week’s torrential rains in the mountainous region of the State of Rio de Janeiro, known as Região Serrana, have already taken more than 600 lives by Saturday night, and it is registered as the worst weather-related tragedy in Brazil’s history.
Five cities in the region have confirmed deaths due to the disaster, with Nova Friburgo and Teresópolis each having lost over 250 people, followed by Petrópolis, Sumidouro, and São José do Vale do Rio Preto. The cities of Bom Jardim and Areal have also been devastated, and the Defesa Civil (Civil Defense) has expressed its concern that there might be fatalities among their victims as well.
The search and rescue efforts, which were hampered by the obstruction of the roads to the troubled areas due to mudslides, have been continuing with the joint efforts of local, state, and federal entities, as well as the military and volunteers, coordinated by the municipal governments.
President Dilma Rousseff has allocated an emergency fund of R$780 million for the reconstruction of the destroyed towns, and in the meanwhile, over 3,000 people who have lost their homes are being sheltered in designated buildings in the region.
In Teresópolis and Petrópolis, the search and rescue efforts had to be suspended at night due to the lack of electricity, while in Nova Friburgo, where the power is mostly restored, the rescue teams are able to work overnight as well.
Despite the intensification of the search and rescue efforts, the need for help still exceeds the available assistance in the region, as many are still stranded, and some are forced to dig graves on their own in order to bury the bodies that are not recovered by authorities.
Steve Yolen, an American living in Nova Friburgo described it as, “About double a month’s normal rainfall in [fell] two hours. In this mountainous area, all of the creeks became white water rivers and converged on the hillside towns, pretty much located in valleys”.
Yolen continues, “Authorities estimated the water hit the towns at a velocity of 100 km/hr and in Friburgo the main river rose two meters over highest previous record … Many of our friends lost houses or worse…one is a director of a medical clinic and five of her employees died”.
The majority of the region remains without electricity, and about 60 percent of Teresópolis, and 35 percent of Nova Friburgo still do not have access to clean water. Yolen tells, “We’ve been without power and phone service for three days but cellphone Internet service returned this morning.”
In the wake of the tragedy in the state, Sérgio Cabral, the governor of Rio, has declared a week-long mourning period starting on Monday, January 17th, while President Dilma declared official mourning for three days, from last Friday until Sunday, January 16th.
Tropical rains have not ceased to affect the hardest hit areas, and on Saturday heavy rains aggravated the situation in Nova Friburgo by loosening the terrain, filling up the streets with water, and hampering the efforts of the rescue teams. More heavy rainfall is expected in the entire region on Sunday.
“The house I live across from has collapsed, and not only that, a mountain missing chunks of land became visible; it is all very scary,” said Gabriel Broad Lóes, a resident of Teresópolis, while many reported sights of bodies piled up on the streets, reminiscent of a war zone.
Helping the victims is possible via various means, through donations of blood, money, as well as food, clothing, and supplies. HemoRio has been accepting blood donations from people between the ages of 18-65, who are over 50 kg (110 lbs), and in good health. It is located at Rua Frei Caneca 8, in Centro, and operates daily from 7AM-6PM.
Many locations in the region, as well as the city of Rio de Janeiro have been collecting donations of non-perishable food, clothing, mattresses, blankets, and hygiene products.
In Zona Sul (South zone), as of Monday, January 17th, donations can be given at the offices of either Christ Church or the British and Commonwealth Society (BCS), both located at Rua Real Grandeza, 99 in Botafogo. Hours are from 9AM to 5PM. Please contact the Church’s secretary, Karen, at +55 (21) 2226-7332, or the BCS’ Gaynor or Monica at +55 (21) 2537-6695.
In Barra da Tijuca, as of Sunday, January 16th, donations can be given at the Union Church, Av. Pref. Dulcidio Cardoso, 4351. Weekday office hours are from 8AM to 4PM. Please contact the Church’s secretary, Carol, at +55 (21) 3325-8601.
In the Metrô Rio, eleven stations have established collection centers: Carioca, Central, Largo do Machado, Catete, Glória, Ipanema/General Osório, Pavuna, Saens Peña, Botafogo, Nova América/Del Castilho e Siqueira Campos.
Monetary donations can be made directly to the municipalities in the region, to Rio State’s Civil Defense department, or to other funds set up to provide social assistance to the victims.
Prefeitura de Nova Friburgo
(Municipality of Nova Friburgo)
Bank: Banco do Brasil
Account No: 120.000-3
Prefeitura de Teresópolis
(Municipality of Teresópolis)
Bank: Banco do Brasil
Account No: 110000-9 (under the name “SOS Teresópolis – Donativos”)
Defesa Civil – RJ
Bank: Caixa Econômica Federal
Account No: 2011-0
Fundo Estadual de Assistência Social do Estado do Rio de Janeiro
(State of Rio Social Assistance Fund)
Account No: 00594-7