Rescuers retrieve more bodies days after Brazil storm

Published: 10:58 PM, 19 Feb, 2022
Rescue workers search for victims after a giant landslide in Petropolis, Brazil. AFP
Caption: Rescue workers search for victims after a giant landslide in Petropolis, Brazil. AFP
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Rescue workers pulled more bodies Saturday from the muddy wreckage left by devastating floods and landslides in the scenic Brazilian city of Petropolis, where the death toll stands at 138, including 26 children.

In a dense fog, workers dug with spades and shovels through the rubble and muck as the search entered its fifth day.

An AFP photographer saw rescuers carrying out two recovered corpses in body bags in the hard-hit neighbourhood of Alto da Serra, as relatives sobbed in the street.

In the heart of the disaster zone, rescue workers occasionally blew loud whistles to call for silence and listen for signs of life.

But authorities say there is little hope at this point of finding survivors from Tuesday's torrential rains, which turned streets to gushing rivers in the picturesque city in the southeastern mountains and triggered landslides in poor hillside neighbourhoods that wiped out virtually all in their path.

Officials say 24 people have been rescued alive, but that came mostly in the early hours after the tragedy.

Rio de Janeiro state police said 218 people remained missing as of late Friday.

Meanwhile, 91 of the 138 bodies recovered so far have been identified.

Many of the missing may be among the unidentified bodies. But the numbers have been hazy, and it is difficult to know how high the death toll could go.

The dead include at least 26 minors, said the police.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who flew over the disaster zone Friday by helicopter, said the city was suffering from "enormous destruction, like scenes of war."

Tuesday's was the latest in a series of deadly storms to hit Brazil, which experts say are made worse by climate change.

In the past three months, at least 188 people have died in severe rains, mainly in the southeastern state of Sao Paulo and the northeastern state of Bahia, as well as Petropolis.

'Like ants'

Normal life has been slowly returning to central Petropolis, a charming tourist town that was the 19th-century summer capital of the Brazilian empire.

Staff were busy cleaning out shops in the city centre, where little was open besides essential stores such as supermarkets and pharmacies.

City officials set up a new collection point for charitable donations on a highway outside town in a bid to lessen traffic chaos created by swarms of ambulances, heavy machinery and trucks loaded with donated food, water and clothing.

"There has been a very strong current of solidarity, for which we are immensely grateful," said city social assistance secretary Karol Cerqueira in a statement.

Atop the worst landslide, in Alto da Serra, rescue workers in bright orange uniforms and exhausted residents looking for their missing loved ones kept up a slow, dogged search.

Authorities say the mountain of mud and rubble is unstable, so the search is being carried out with hand tools and chainsaws at the hardest-to-reach spots.

It would be too dangerous to bring in the excavators being used in less difficult zones near the bottom of the hillside, said Roberto Amaral, coordinator of the local fire department's special rescue group.

"It's impossible to bring in heavy machinery up here, so we basically have to work like ants, going little by little," he told AFP.

A sobering series of funerals meanwhile continued at the city's main cemetery, where 72 victims have been buried so far -- 19 on Saturday morning alone.

Categories : Topics, Environment

Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.