Hundreds of rescue workers were searching Monday for survivors of mudslides and flooding that killed at least 36 people along the coast of southern Brazil’s Sao Paulo state, after a heavy downpour on Monday. weekend.
The most affected area was the city of Sao Sebastiao, where at least 35 people died. In neighboring Ubatuba, a 7-year-old girl died. The disaster, in an area famous for its mountain-fringed beaches, led to the cancellation of Carnival festivities in several cities.
Governor Tarcisio de Freitas told the Globo television network that another 40 people were missing. Around 800 people were left homeless and some 1,730 have been displaced, the state government said in a statement.
Television images showed flooded houses with only the roof visible. Residents used small boats to move items and people to elevated areas.
A woman who gave only her first name, Malisa, said she, her husband, daughter and grandson barely escaped when an avalanche destroyed their home in Sao Sebastiao’s Juquehy municipality. The house was partially covered, part of it collapsed and the rest was precariously located on the edge of a hill.
“It was very fast. Either you run or you die,” she noted. “It is not possible to take anything, only your life, which is the most important thing.”
Elements of the armed forces joined the search and rescue efforts, although access to many areas was complicated by landslides that blocked roads in the region’s highlands and by flooding that destroyed pavement in low-lying areas and Oceanfront.
“Our rescue teams cannot reach several places; it is a chaotic situation”, declared Felipe Augusto, mayor of Sao Sebastiao, on Sunday night on social networks.
He added that around 50 houses collapsed in the city due to avalanches, and he posted several videos of the rescue efforts and destruction in his city on social media, including one of a baby being rescued by residents on a street. flooded.
The highway that connects the state of Rio de Janeiro with the port city of Santos, in Sao Paulo, was blocked by avalanches and floods. Governor De Freitas noted that the damage was so extensive that the highway may no longer exist.
Rainfall in Sao Sebastiao had exceeded 600 millimeters (23.6 inches) during a 24-hour period over the weekend.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva visited the region on Monday. He observed the damage in Sao Sebastiao from a helicopter and met with Governor De Freitas in the city theater, where the search operations were being coordinated.
Lula asked people who live in hilly areas to move to safer regions. “From time to time nature gives us a surprise, but also many times we defy nature,” Lula said in statements to the press in Sao Sebastiao.
De Freitas declared a state of emergency for the hardest-hit cities, including Sao Sebastiao, Ubatuba, Ilhabela and Bertioga, allowing for an accelerated distribution of relief funds. He pointed out that 7 million reais (1.35 million dollars) have already been delivered. On Monday, the governor also declared three days of official mourning throughout the state of Sao Paulo.
The heavy rains affected drinking water, electricity and telephone services, according to a statement from the state government, which posted a video on Twitter showing the transport of 30,000 liters of water to Sao Sebastiao. Hygiene items, blankets, sleeping bags, mattresses and medical supplies have also been sent.
Integration and Regional Development Minister Waldez Góes tweeted that experts were already reviewing reconstruction plans. “In the next few days we will work on the reconstruction of bridges, public buildings, housing units and all the affected public infrastructure,” he said.
The affected area, on the north coast of Sao Paulo state, is a frequent Carnival destination for wealthy tourists who prefer to stay away from the massive street parties of big cities.