Landslides Devastate Brazilian City

Landslides Devastate Brazilian City
Residents and volunteers look for victims after mudslides in Petrópolis, Brazil. (Photo: Silvia Izquierdo, AP)

At least 104 people are dead and more than 30 still missing after torrential rains hit a city in Brazil on Wednesday, causing widespread landslides and flooding and destroying buildings, Reuters reports. The death toll could still rise in Petrópolis, a city of 300,000 that sits in the mountains north of Rio de Janeiro, as more than 500 first responders continued to work to find survivors on Thursday.

Nearly 400 people are homeless, AP reports, while 24 people had been rescued; 13 children were among the dead, officials said. More than 180 people living in vulnerable areas, meanwhile, relocated to seek shelter in local schools.

A Month of Rain in Three Hours

The path of a mudslide marks a hillside filled with homes. (Photo: Silvia Izquierdo, AP)The path of a mudslide marks a hillside filled with homes. (Photo: Silvia Izquierdo, AP)

On Tuesday, the state fire department said, more than 25.8 centimetres of rain fell on Petrópolis in just three hours. That’s almost as much rain as the amount that fell during the entire previous month, making it the most intense rain the city has seen since 1932, according to Reuters. Weather forecasters say that more rain will come to the region later this week.

‘A Really Extreme Event’

Priscilla Neves recovers belongings while waiting for news about her missing parents, who were in their family home when it was covered by mudslides. (Photo: Silvia Izquierdo, AP)Priscilla Neves recovers belongings while waiting for news about her missing parents, who were in their family home when it was covered by mudslides. (Photo: Silvia Izquierdo, AP)

“What we saw was a really extreme event,” Cássia de Castro Martins Ferreira, a researcher at the Federal University of Juiz de Fora, told the New York Times. “It didn’t rain — it was an extraordinary amount of water that poured down.”

Climate Change Making Rains Heavier

Residents recover belongs from their homes destroyed by mudslides. (Photo: Silvia Izquierdo, AP)Residents recover belongs from their homes destroyed by mudslides. (Photo: Silvia Izquierdo, AP)

Extreme precipitation has become more common in our changing climate, since warmer air can hold more moisture. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s bombshell report last year found that, across the world, heavy rains have become 30% more frequent as the planet has warmed, and these storms hold on average 7% more water.

‘Almost Like War’

A rescue worker carries a dog away from a residential area destroyed by mudslides. (Photo: Silvia Izquierdo, AP)A rescue worker carries a dog away from a residential area destroyed by mudslides. (Photo: Silvia Izquierdo, AP)

Dramatic footage posted on social media showed torrents of brown water charging down steep streets and churning through avenues, carrying trees, cars and other debris along with it. A wave of water was also filmed destroying buildings as it crashed down a hill.

“The situation is almost like war,” Rio de Janeiro Governor Claudio Castro told reporters at the site, according to Reuters. “Cars hanging from poles, cars overturned, lots of mud and water still.”

City Expansion Making It More Vulnerable

Soldiers look for survivors on the second day of rescue efforts. (Photo: Silvia Izquierdo, AP)Soldiers look for survivors on the second day of rescue efforts. (Photo: Silvia Izquierdo, AP)

Petrópolis is known as Brazil’s “Imperial City,” built in the mid-19th century by Emperor Pedro II, and is filled with classic European-style architecture set among lush parks and sheer mountains. However, the region’s geography makes it vulnerable to storms as warmer air collides with cold temperatures in the mountains, while the city’s rapid expansion higher into the hills has cleared out forests and land that would usually protect from disastrous flooding. In 2011, landslides and rains killed more than 900 people in the larger Rio de Janeiro area, including in Petrópolis.

‘Our City Is Over’

Residents search for survivors on the second day of rescue efforts. (Photo: Silvia Izquierdo, AP)Residents search for survivors on the second day of rescue efforts. (Photo: Silvia Izquierdo, AP)

“I lost my niece and her five-year-old daughter, who we still haven’t found,” a resident identified only as Hilda told Reuters. “We did not expect this tragedy. Our city is over.”