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Brazil mudslides kill at least 94, dozens still missing

PETROPOLIS, BRAZIL (AP) – Rio de Janeiro state’s government confirmed 94 deaths from floods and mudslides that swept away homes and cars in the city of Petropolis. But even as families prepared to bury their dead, it was unclear yesterday how many bodies remained trapped in the mud.

Mayor Rubens Bomtempo didn’t offer an estimate for the number of people missing, with recovery efforts still ongoing.

“We don’t yet know the full scale of this,” Bomtempo said at a news conference. “It was a hard day, a difficult day.”

Over 24 hours after the deadly deluge on Tuesday, survivors were digging to find lost loved ones. Rio de Janeiro’s public prosecutors’ office said in a statement on Wednesday it compiled a list of 35 people yet to be located.

Footage posted on social media showed torrents dragging cars and houses through the streets and water swirling through the city. One video showed two buses sinking into a swollen river as its passengers clambered out the windows, scrambling for safety. Some didn’t make it to the banks and were washed away, out of sight.

On Wednesday, houses were left buried beneath mud while appliances and cars were in piles on the streets.

An aerial view of a neighbourhood affected by landslides in Petropolis, Brazil. PHOTO: AP

The state fire department said 25.8 centimetres of rain fell within three hours on Tuesday – almost as much as during the previous 30 days combined. Rio de Janeiro’s Governor Claudio Castro said in a press conference the rains were the worst Petropolis received since 1932.

“No one could predict rain as hard as this,” Castro said. More rain is expected through the rest of the week, according to weather forecasters.

Castro added that almost 400 people were left homeless and 24 people were recovered alive.

They were fortunate, and they were few.

The stricken mountain region has seen similar catastrophes in recent decades, including one that caused over 900 deaths.

In the years since, Petropolis presented a plan to reduce risks of landslides, but works have been advancing only slowly.

The plan, presented in 2017, was based on analysis determining that 18 per cent of the city’s territory was at high risk for landslides and flooding.

Local authorities said over 180 residents who live in at-risk areas are sheltering in schools.

More equipment and manpower is expected to help rescue efforts yesterday.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro expressed solidarity while on a trip to Russia. Petropolis’ city hall declared three days of mourning for the tragedy.

Southeastern Brazil has been punished with heavy rains since the start of the year, with over 40 deaths recorded between incidents in Minas Gerais state in early January and Sao Paulo state later the same month.