By Sibel Tinar, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Intense tropical rainstorms sweeping across southeastern Brazil since Tuesday have caused massive flooding, landslides, and killed an estimated 360 people so far in the states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
Região Serrana, the scenic, mountainous region of the Rio state that includes the major cities of Petrópolis, Teresópolis and Nova Friburgo is the hardest hit area, with at least 336 people reported dead until now.
Teresópolis, the worst-affected city, which is located a hundred kilometers northeast of the city of Rio de Janeiro, officially declared a state of emergency, along with the nearby Nova Friburgo, as landslides have buried homes and streets under piles of mud, and floodwater filled up the city.
The region received 160 mm of rain within only four hours, more than the amount expected for the entire month of January, and the death toll is expected to rise with dozens reported missing. Among the dead and the missing are first responders and rescue workers, while over 2,000 people either lost their homes or are dislocated.
The difficulty of reaching the areas affected the most by the landslides is expected to increase the death toll even more, according to Flávio Castro, the commander of Defesa Civil (Civil Defense).
Castro has also noted that transportation to and from certain neighborhoods in Teresópolis were cut off due to heavy mudslides, as well as between several cities in the region, while many neighborhoods are left without electricity, water supply, or telephone service.
Rio’s Governor Sérgio Cabral has released a statement Wednesday morning, urging all departments of the State of Rio de Janeiro to “intensify their work on account of the recent heavy rains affecting the municipalities in the Região Serrana“.
Cabral has also talked to President Dilma and asked for federal aid, as well as requesting aircraft and equipment from the military forces, in order to be able to reach the areas where access by land is impossible due to obstruction.
The vice governor of the state Luiz Fernando Pezão has flown over the cities of Teresópolis and Nova Friburgo by helicopter in order to assess the situation early Wednesday morning. “I’ve never seen anything like it, even after the landslides in Angra dos Reis the past year,” said Pezão.
“This is the time to see what can be done to resolve this situation, primarily clearing the roads and ensuring access to services and support to restore normalcy for the people.” he states.
Floods and mudslides caused by heavy rainfall has also affected the state of São Paulo, where at least 21 people have died, and many homes collapsed, causing chaos, and paralyzing the main roads around the city of São Paulo.
The state of Rio de Janeiro has suffered from similar tragedies in its recent past. Landslides caused by tropical rains collapsed a hotel, killing 68 people in the touristic town of Angra dos Reis a year ago, and unseasonably strong rains in April led to flooding and mudslides that killed 230 people in and around the city of Rio.