Brazil mudslides kill at least 16

Sunday, January 12, 2003

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- Mudslides touched off by torrential rains killed at least 16 people early Saturday in a mountain resort city outside Rio de Janeiro, civil defense authorities said.

The mudslides buried three houses built on precarious piece of hillside in Petropolis. Authorities said the water flooding the city's main street and square had risen to about 5 feet and was only slowly withdrawing, although the rain had stopped.

Three victims were found drowned in the Piabanaha River after having been swept away by torrents of water, two of them trapped inside a car, while one man drowned as torrents of water swept through the city center. The rest were found buried under the mud.

Authorities said more than 7 inches of rain fell on the city in an hour, flooding the city's main street and square with 5 feet of water. More rain was forecast through Wednesday.

Civil defense authorities said about 60 cars had been swept away by the powerful currents.

The houses had been condemned last year because of their dangerous location, but only some of the residents were moved to a safer area because of a lack of housing.

Mudslides are a chronic problem in Rio de Janeiro state during the summer rainy season as poor people, without anywhere else to go, build precarious shantytowns on the abundant hillsides with little interference from authorities.

Clearing the grass and shrubs from the hillsides to make way for shantytowns promotes erosion, leaving the communities vulnerable to mudslides.

So far this year, 40 people died in mudslides in the beach resort town of Angra dos Reis in southern Rio de Janeiro state and at least nine people were killed in the mountain city of Teresopolis.

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