Rio de Janeiro Storm Kills 6, Turning Roads Into Rivers and Burying Bus in Mud
RIO DE JANEIRO — — A powerful summer storm swept through Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday night, leaving at least six people dead, as streets turned into rivers and mudslides destroyed homes and buried a bus, where two of the dead people were found.
Residents woke up to a city in disarray, with cars and motorcycles destroyed after floating down flooded roads and trees and light poles down everywhere, knocked over by winds that hit 70 miles per hour.
Hotels and restaurants were inundated with water, and whole neighborhoods were left without electricity or working phone lines.
“This surprised even meteorologists,” Mayor Marcelo Crivella told TV Globo in the early hours of the morning, near the area where a bus had been buried. “In two hours it rained what was expected for the whole month.”
While this was an unusually powerful storm, with wind powers almost as strong as a hurricane, the damage and death that followed was not rare for Rio de Janeiro and the surrounding state with the same name.
In November, mudslides in the neighboring city of Niterói killed 14 people. In 2010, heavy rains left over 50 people dead in the beach town of Angra dos Reis.
And in 2011, in what became one of Brazil’s most gruesome recent disasters, a powerful storm caused floods and landslides in cities in the hilly areas across the state of Rio, killing over 900 people.
With precariously built homes and makeshift infrastructure, the city of Rio de Janeiro’s hillside poor neighborhoods, or favelas, are commonly the hardest hit during the summer’s heavy rain season. Residents say the government can do more to both flood-proof buildings here and warn people ahead of time.
“This reduction shows authorities don’t prepare for these heavy rains,” said Luiz Mario Behnken, an economist with the forum. “Every year they are surprised by these rains.”
Rita de Cássia Smith, a community leader in Rocinha, one of the city’s largest favelas, pointed to faulty sewage and drainage systems, and the lack of trash collection, as some of the causes of the destruction.
“In Rio de Janeiro, we have tragedies and deaths every year,” Ms. Smith said. “This happens because all the building work is poorly done, so when the rain comes it knocks it all down.”
As she watched her street become a river rapid, Ms. Smith said she spent the night scared to death. Just down the road, dozens of residents spent the day trying to use ropes to lift more than 10 motorcycles that had fallen down a hillside.
Mauricio Ehrlich, an engineer and geotechnician at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, said there had been investments in the city’s drainage system in recent decades, but not enough.
“The ideal thing would be to have urban planning,” Professor Ehrlich said. “The government fails when it lets the city grow in inadequate areas.”
Nearby, Maria Leni Martins tried to recover whatever was left of her home, after it had flooded the night before. As the water hit her waist, she had to scream for neighbors to save her 74-year-old mother, who has difficulty walking.
She thought they were going to drown.
“The government needs to do something,” she said, as she tried to clean off the mud from her floors. “This isn’t the first time my house floods.”