Mudslides from torrential rains kill 78 in Brazil: ‘Our city ... is finished’

People removing body of a landslide victim
Residents and volunteers remove the body of a landslide victim in Petropolis, Brazil, on Wednesday.
(Silvia Izquierdo / Associated Press)

The death toll from devastating mudslides and floods that swept through a mountainous region of Rio de Janeiro state has reached 78, Gov. Claudio Castro said Wednesday afternoon.

The city of Petropolis was slammed by a deluge Tuesday, and Castro said almost 400 people were left homeless. Searchers picked through the mud, boulders and wreckage throughout the day, and 21 people were found alive.

Civilians joined the official recovery efforts. Among them were Priscila Neves and her siblings, who looked through the mud for any sign of their missing parents, but found only clothing. Neves told the Associated Press she had given up hope of finding her parents alive.


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.”

Petropolis is a German-influenced city named for a former Brazilian emperor. Nestled in the mountains above the coastal metropolis, for almost two centuries it has been a refuge for people escaping the summer heat and tourists interested in exploring Brazil’s “Imperial City.”

Petropolis was among the nation’s first planned cities and features stately homes along its waterways. But its population has grown haphazardly, climbing mountainsides now covered with small residences packed tightly together. Many are in areas unfit for structures and rendered more vulnerable by deforestation and inadequate drainage.

The stricken mountain region has seen similar catastrophes in recent decades, including one that caused more than 900 deaths.

In the years since, Petropolis presented a plan to reduce risks of landslides, but work has been advancing only slowly.


The governor told reporters that the situation “was almost like war” and that he was mustering all the state government’s heavy machinery to help dig out the buried area.

The U.S. coastline is expected to experience as much sea level rise in the next 30 years as it did in the hundred years prior.

Feb. 16, 2022

The state fire department said that the area got more than 10 inches of rain within three hours Tuesday — almost as much as during the previous 30 days.

Video posted on social media Tuesday showed cars and houses being dragged away by landslides, and water swirling through Petropolis and neighboring districts.

On Wednesday, houses were buried beneath mud while appliances and cars were piled on streets where they had been swept the night before. Some people had attempted to flee the perilous hillsides.

“The neighbors came down running and I gave them shelter,” said bar owner Emerson Torre, 39.

California gets enormous floods roughly once a decade, says geologist Jeff Mount. He says that now is the time to prepare.

July 15, 2021

But under torrents of water, the roof 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.”

Petropolis’ City Hall declared three days of mourning. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro expressed solidarity while on a trip to Russia, as did his counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

“May God comfort their family members,” Bolsonaro said Wednesday at a news conference in Moscow.

Southeastern Brazil has been punished with heavy rains since the start of the year, with more than 40 deaths recorded cumulatively in incidents in Minas Gerais state in early January and Sao Paulo state later in the month.