Rains swamp Rio de Janeiro, kill at least 81; schools closed, motorists stranded

By Bradley Brooks, AP
Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Heavy rains swamp Rio, killing at least 81

RIO DE JANEIRO — Torrential rains in Rio de Janeiro have triggered landslides that killed 81 people as rising water paralyzed traffic and suspended most business.

The ground gave way in steep hillside slums, cutting red-brown paths of destruction through shantytowns. Concrete and wooden homes were crushed and hurtled downhill, only to bury other structures.

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 after eight inches (20 centimeters) of rain fell.

“It is not advisable for people to leave their homes,” said Paes. “We want to preserve lives.”

A representative for the Rio de Janeiro fire department that is coordinating rescue efforts said 80 people have been killed and another 44 hospitalized. Most of the vicitims were from Rio’s hillside shantytowns whose homes were buried under tons of mud and rubble.

“We expect the death toll to rise,” said the spokesman, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Thousands of motorists were stranded overnight on highways blocked by rising floodwaters 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 normally takes place during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer in December through February but this year has lasted into April.

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

will not be displayed