Rains swamp Rio de Janeiro, kill at least 50; schools closed, motorists stranded

By Bradley Brooks, AP
Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Heavy rains swamp Rio, killing at least 50

RIO DE JANEIRO — Torrential rains in Rio de Janeiro have triggered landslides that killed at least 50 people as rising water paralyzed traffic and suspended most business.

The future host city of the Olympics and football World Cup ground to a near halt Tuesday as Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes urged workers to stay home and closed all schools.

He said more rain was expected and urged people living in high-risk areas not to leave their homes. Potential mudslides threatened at least 2,000 homes.

“It is not advisable for people to leave their homes,” said Paes, announcing at least 50 deaths from mudslides in Rio’s slums. “We want to preserve lives.”

Thousands of motorists were stranded overnight on highways blocked by floods as more than eight inches (20 centimeters) of rain fell and floodwaters rose on Tuesday.

Sergio Simoes, head of Rio de Janeiro’s civil defense department told the Globo TV network that the amount of rain that fell was “more than any city is capable of supporting.”

Claudio Ribeiro, a 24-year-old taxi driver, spent eight hours stranded on a Rio highway.

“I have never seen anything like this,” he said, wiping steam from the inside of his windshield to reveal a flooded highway with cars, taxis and buses packed together.

Poor workers walking between the vehicles, broken umbrellas and plastic garbage bags protecting them from rain.

“Tell me, how is this city supposed to host the Olympics?” Ribeiro said. “Look at this chaos!”

Neither the 2014 World Cup nor the 2016 Olympics will be held during Brazil’s rainy season, which takes place during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer in December through February.

Associated Press Writer Marco Sibaja contributed to this report from Brasilia.

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