16 January 2024

At least 12 dead as Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro state hit by heavy rain and flooding

16 January 2024

Neighbourhoods in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro state remained flooded on Monday, more than a day after torrential rain killed at least 12 people.

The heavy downpours wreaked havoc over the weekend, flooding homes, a hospital, the metro line in the city of Rio, and a main freeway section, Avenida Brasil.

Some people drowned or were killed in landslides, while at least three died after being electrocuted.

Eighteen towns across the state remained at “high” risk of landslides, according to civil defence officials.

The floods were particularly devastating in Rio’s northern peripheries, some of the poorest areas.

“We feel like animals. It’s not normal to live like this,” Heloisa Regina, 55, said as she surveyed her flooded bar and home in Duque de Caxias, a city to the north of Rio where more than 3.9in (100mm) of rain fell in 24 hours.

Ms Regina spent the night trying to sleep on a pool table, wondering how she was going to pay to repair the damage to the bar she has owned for 30 years. “We’ve lost everything,” she said.

Residents waded through waist-high water on Monday to navigate streets in Duque de Caxias. Others climbed on roofs and called for help as helicopters flew overhead, according to video footage from Brazil’s Globo television network.

Firefighters were searching for a woman who disappeared after her car fell into the Botas River in Rio’s Belford Roxo neighbourhood.

Around 2,400 military personnel from Rio’s firefighters corps were mobilised over the weekend and used ambulances, boats, drones and aircraft to rescue residents and to monitor affected areas.

Authorities intervened in more than 200 incidents due to the flooding across the state, according to a statement from Rio’s civil defence.

However, some people accused the authorities of negligence.

“We are completely abandoned,” Duque de Caxias resident Eliana Vieira Krauss, 54, said.

“Nothing has improved” since similar floods more than a decade ago, the nursing assistant said.

Ms Krauss carried her 80-year-old disabled father-in-law to her sister-in-law’s home herself.

“The water was almost reaching his bed. If he had turned around and fallen, he would have drowned,” she said.

On Sunday, Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes declared an emergency and urged people not to force their way through flooded areas and to avoid disrupting rescue and recovery efforts.

Moderate to heavy rain, lightning and gusts of wind were forecast on Monday afternoon.

Rio’s civil defence advised people not to swim in lakes or the sea, and when at home to stay away from sockets, windows and metal doors.

Floods in the basement of the Ronaldo Gazolla Municipal Hospital led to power cuts that were resolved by Sunday, but all appointments at the hospital have been delayed by 15 days, Rio Health Secretary Daniel Soranz said on X, formerly Twitter.

Brazil’s National Institute of Meteorology had warned on Thursday of the potential for heavy rain in Rio, Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais due to a combination of heat, humidity and areas of low pressure in the atmosphere.

In February 2023, heavy rain caused flooding and landslides that killed at least 48 people in Sao Paulo state.

In September, flooding from a cyclone in southern Brazil killed at least 31 people and left 2,300 homeless.

At the same time, the Amazon rainforest in Brazil has faced severe drought.

Scientists say extreme weather is happening more frequently due to human-caused climate change, and 2023 was the hottest year on record.

Nízia Maria Geralda Francisco, 70, spent Saturday night on the roof where she was taken by neighbours to escape the flooding of her home in Belford Roxo.

When she returned the next morning, she found her belongings drenched in muddy water, including a wardrobe and her documents.

“It’s hard to stay in this place, but it’s ours. We don’t have any money to leave,” she said, crying.

“Humans are destroying nature, so this is what we’re getting in return.”

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox