Search Workers Rescue Flood Victims in Brazil; 655 Dead

By Dialogo
January 19, 2011

On 17 January, Brazilian Army helicopters sped up the tasks of rescue and bringing in supplies in areas impacted by the landslides and floods that have left at least 655 dead and contacted people who had been isolated for several days.

A helicopter rescued five people in the morning, the Air Force said in a statement, due to the fact that improved weather conditions allowed the aircraft to fly more easily over the most affected areas, located around one hundred kilometers north of Río de Janeiro.

Hundreds of people are believed to still be in areas at risk of new landslides, some of them isolated by washed-out roads and bridges, while others are refusing to leave for fear that their homes might be looted.

The Army is operating four helicopters from an improvised base at the Brazilian national soccer team’s training field in Teresópolis.

Heavy rains led to one of the worst natural disasters in Brazil’s history during the second week in January, when an avalanche of mud, water, and rocks leveled towns and villages in the picturesque region.

The poorest residents, who lived in precarious homes, suffered the worst of the tragedy.

The death toll has continually risen as rescue workers have dug more bodies out from under the mud and debris.

The authorities have not issued an official estimate of the number of missing, but the local newspaper Folha de São Paulo said Monday that 120 people had not been found.

Some residents have complained about what they characterize as a slow response by the authorities in sending basic supplies to isolated communities and helping those affected to dig out their deceased relatives and friends.

“We want to go. We have no news, we don’t know whether our relatives have died,” Paulo da Silva, one of forty residents of an isolated area, told Folha de São Paulo.

On 16 January, a new landslide near Petrópolis left three people dead, the local press reported, making evident the risks inherent in the forecasts of more rain for the region in coming days.