Rescue workers are racing against time, searching for any remaining survivors among mud and wreckage after devastating flash floods and landslides hit the picturesque Brazilian city of Petropolis, as authorities said on Thursday the death toll had risen to 105.
Streets were turned into rivers and houses swept away when heavy storms dumped a month’s worth of rain in three hours on the scenic tourist town in the hills north of Rio de Janeiro.With dozens still reported missing, fears that the death toll could climb further sent firefighters and volunteers scrambling through the remains of houses washed away in torrents of mud, many of them in impoverished hillside slums.
It is the latest in a series of deadly storms to hit Brazil in the past three months, which experts say are being made worse by climate change.
The state government said at least 24 people had been rescued.
Using dogs, excavators and helicopters, rescue workers were urgently searching for more before it was too late, with the Rio public prosecutor’s office reporting that 35 people had been registered missing.
About 300 people were being housed in shelters, mostly in schools, officials said. Charities called for donations of mattresses, food, water, clothing and face masks for victims.
Wendel Pio Lourenco, a 24-year-old resident, was walking through the street with a television in his arms, heading to a local church in search of shelter.
He said he was trying to save a few possessions, after spending a sleepless night helping search for victims.
“I found a girl who was buried alive,” he said.
“Everyone is saying it looks like a war zone.”
Governor Claudio Castro said the same after visiting the scene.
“It looks like a scene from a war. It’s incredible,” he said, adding that it was the worst rain since 1932.
He praised rescue workers for managing “to save a large number of people before it was too late”.
Videos posted on social media from Tuesday’s rains showed streets in Petropolis, the 19th-century summer capital of the Brazilian empire, filled with violent floods that swept away cars, trees and nearly everything else in their paths.
Many shops were inundated by the rising water, which gushed down the streets of the historic city centre, leaving jumbled piles of overturned cars in its wake.
Officials said more than 180 firefighters and other rescue workers were responding to the emergency, aided by 400 soldiers sent in as reinforcements.
City hall declared a “state of disaster” in the city of 300,000 people, which sits 68km (42 miles) north of Rio.
The city council declared three days of mourning for victims.