PETROPOLIS, Brazil (AP) — The death toll from devastating mudslides and floods that swept through a mountainous region of Rio de Janeiro state has reached 34, according to a statement from local authorities early Wednesday.
After the city of Petropolis was slammed by a deluge on Tuesday, there are fears the number of dead could rise higher as searchers picked through the wreckage.
Rosilene Virgilio, 49, was in tears Wednesday as she recalled the pleas for help from a woman she couldn’t save.
“Yesterday there was a woman screaming ‘Help! Get me out of here!’ But we couldn’t do anything, the water was gushing out, the mud was gushing out,” she told The Associated Press. “Our city unfortunately is finished.”
The state fire department said late Tuesday that more than 180 soldiers were already working in the stricken region, which saw hundreds of deaths from heavy rainfall in 2011.
The department said the area got 25.8 centimeters (just over 10 inches) of rain within three hours Tuesday — almost as much as during the previous 30 days combined.
Footage posted on social media showed cars and houses being dragged away by landslides and water swirling through Petropolis and neighboring districts.
“The neighbors came down running and I gave them shelter,” bar owner Emerson Torre, 39, told The Associated Press.
But under torrents of water, the roofing collapsed. He managed to get his mother and three other people out of the bar in time, but one neighbor and the person’s daughter were unable to escape.
“It was like an avalanche, it fell all at once. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Torre said, as rescue helicopters hovered overhead. “Every neighbor has lost a loved one, has lost two, three, four members of the same family, kids.”
Gov. Claudio Castro said on Twitter that he was mustering all heavy machinery belonging to several state secretariats to help dig out the buried area.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is on a trip to Russia, said on Twitter that he instructed his ministers to deliver immediate support to the afflicted.
“May God comfort the family members of the victims,” he wrote.
Southeastern Brazil has been punished with heavy rains since the start of the year, with more than 40 deaths recorded between incidents in Minas Gerais state in early January and Sao Paulo state later the same month.