Avalanche death toll in Brazil rises to 78 people

Search and rescue workers and officials from the mountainous city of Petropolis, Brazil, put the death toll from landslides triggered by heavy rains has risen to at least 78.

The mayor of Petropolis told reporters that the death toll was expected to rise as search and rescue efforts were carried out by officers among the rubble. Local officials said 21 people were found safe in the tragedy.

The city, located 68 kilometers north of Rio de Janeiro, was hit by torrential rains on Tuesday (15/2), turning the streets into rivers. The local meteorological agency, MetSul, reported that parts of Petropolis were drenched in 26 centimeters of rain in less than six hours – more than the expected rain for the whole of February.

Heavy rains destroyed houses at the foot of the hill and dragged people’s cars. Local officials said about 80 houses were destroyed.

Rosilene Virgilio, a resident of Petropolis, couldn’t hold back her tears when she told her story.

“There was a woman screaming, ‘Help! Get me out of here!’ But we can’t do anything. Water gushes out, mud gushes out too,” he told the Associated Press. “Our city, unfortunately, is gone.”

About 400 stranded people were placed in makeshift shelters, mostly in schools, local officials said. Various agencies strongly called for assistance in the form of mattresses, blankets, food, drinking water, clothes and masks for the victims.

Earlier on Wednesday (16/2), the Rio de Janeiro Fire Department said more than 180 firefighters, soldiers and search and rescue workers were at the scene, combing through the mud for survivors. Videos circulating on social media show the extensive damage and vehicles floating on the streets.

On his Twitter account, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is visiting Russia, said he had spoken with Brazil’s Regional Development Minister Rogerio Marinho and Economy Minister Paulo Guedes to channel aid to the city.

Since December, heavy rains have caused deadly floods and landslides in northeastern Brazil and the state of Sao Paulo, threatening harvest delays in the midwestern region and forcing the suspension of mining in the state of Minas Gerais. [rd/jm]

Some of the information in this report was taken from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.