By Griffin Brammer, Digital Communications Manager
The Brazilian mountain city of Petrópolis was hit by torrential rainfall, causing mudslides that have leveled parts of the city.
There are at least 186 reported casualties, with the Brazilian government expecting the death toll to continue to rise.
Rio de Janeiro state Governor Claudio Castro stated that an estimated 400 citizens have been left homeless from the 10 inches of rain. Currently, 300 citizens are being housed in makeshift shelters.
“We haven’t even started to speak with neighbors and to know if this or that person had somewhere to go,” Castro said. “There is a lot of anxiety to know about the missing people.”
One survivor added in an interview with AFP News that Petrópolis “looked like a warzone.” Governor Castro echoed the sentiment.
“The situation is almost like war… Cars hanging from poles, cars overturned, lots of mud and water still,” Castro said.
An estimated one month’s worth of rainfall fell in just three hours last Tuesday. According to the Brazilian National Meteorological Institute, it was the most rain the city had seen since 1952.
“(Petrópolis is) going through an extremely grave situation,” Petrópolis Mayor Rubens Bomtempo said. “Up to now, we don’t have a definitive dimension (of the damage done).”
Some researchers are currently attributing the heavy rainfall to climate change and urbanization in the Petrópolis area.
“What we saw was a really extreme event,” Cássia de Castro Martins Ferreira, weather researcher at the Federal University of Juiz de Flora, said.
Ferreira explained that cold mountain air mixed with warm fronts from Rio’s coast make the city susceptible to storms, but deforestation of the upper mountains has removed trees that absorbed much of previous storms’ impacts.
This mudslide comes only a month after the 11-year anniversary of a previous disaster in Petrópolis — a 2011 mudslide that claimed over 900 lives and was dubbed the worst natural disaster in the nation’s history.
After the 2011 disaster, the Brazilian government made plans for future mudslide prevention in the region; however, a lack of funding and changing political powers prevented the plans from occurring.
In a press conference the day after the mudslide, Governor Castro assured residents that necessary alarms and prevention measures would be put in place for the citizens of Petrópolis.
“We are doing the prevention. It takes time. It can’t all be done at once,” he said.
Castro assured citizens that he was acquiring heavy machinery from the state government to help dig out the buried city.
Additionally, the state fire department sent in 180 soldiers to aid with rescue efforts.
Several Brazilian government officials have also offered aid, with the Rio de Janeiro state head defense working with rescue workers to search for survivors.
Both the Brazilian Health Minister and Brazilian Supreme Court have offered to collect and send donations to the victims of the mudslide.
In a tweet, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said, “May God comfort the family members of the victims.”
Bolsonaro assured Brazilians that Petrópolis would receive federal aid for its reconstruction efforts after surveying the damage from his plane. He also promised that his ministers would work to help the region immediately.