With rescuers racing against time amid fading hopes of finding survivors of a huge mudslide in the Rio de Janeiro area with over 400 people now feared dead in some of the worst flooding in the region in over 40 years, focus has turned on responsibility for the magnitude of the catastrophe.
Although the official count remains in the low two hundreds, another 200 people are believed to have been buried alive in the slum areas of Niterói, (particularly the Morro do Bumba), across the bay from Rio de Janeiro, the city that will host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.
A week after the heaviest rains in half a century unleashed floods and mudslides, rescue workers appeared far from having finished the work of recovering bodies. The floods tore through the metropolitan area’s precarious hillside slums, or favelas.
The heavy rain forced some 50,000 people to leave their homes, officials said, either because their homes were damaged or because they were ordered to leave due to fear of fresh landslides.
Geologist Marcelo Motta, who participated in an investigation of the mudslide, told Globo News television that two cracks in the rocky soil made the mound move and pushed down the hill a huge amount of trash saturated with water that had trapped methane gas.
Experts have blamed government “complacency” for allowing the country’s poorest to build housing haphazardly in areas at risk of natural disasters, such as on the sides of steep hills.
Rio de Janeiro state Governor Sergio Cabral, who briefly visited Morro do Bumba late Friday, laid blame on “all of society”. Cabral, who called for “strict measures to withdraw” from areas at risk, said he asked the Brazilian military to help in rescue efforts.
Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes has adopted a decree to remove “by force,” with the help of police, people living in areas at risk.
Labor Minister Carlos Lupi said a 30-year credit line of US$ 567 million, with a 3% interest rate, was set up to seed construction of public housing. The federal government released US$ 113 million in aid for municipalities in Rio state affected by the floods and mudslides, Cabral said.