RIO DE JANEIRO: At least two people were killed when adjacent apartment buildings collapsed in an impoverished neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro on Friday, Brazilian officials said, days after torrential rain wreaked havoc in the city.
Another seven were injured when the structures in the Muzema favela – where many of the cheaply-made buildings are erected without permits – buckled in the early morning when people would have been asleep or having breakfast.
“My daughter was having breakfast and she shouted ‘mum it’s falling, it’s falling’,” Juliana Carvalho, 34, who lives across the street, told reporters.
“We thought the cliff above was falling but in fact it was the building collapsing. We ran and didn’t look back.”
As anxious relatives and friends waited on the road that had been torn up by Monday’s downpour, dozens of rescue workers searched for survivors with the help of sniffer dogs.
Helicopters took some of the wounded to hospital, while others were carried out on stretchers to pickup trucks belonging to emergency services.
“We are working tirelessly,” firefighter Marcelo Gisler told reporters as bottled water was carried up the hill to rescuers working in intense heat and humidity.
G1 news site put the death toll at three, but officials could not confirm the figure.
Sections of road leading up the hill to the collapsed buildings, which were at the foot of a sheer cliff face, had been washed away by the unusually heavy rain, complicating rescue efforts.
Officials said they did not know how many people lived in the buildings and were relying on relatives and neighbors to report who was missing.
“I’m waiting for news of my two sisters and my brother-in-law,” said Francisco Ferreira, 40, who lives nearby.
Others expressed frustration that they had received no news about their loved ones, hours after the buildings collapsed.
Like many poor neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro, Muzema is run by shadowy militias that use violence to enforce their rule.
They sell land rights and control access to city services such as water and electricity.
Many of the buildings are poorly constructed without permission from city planning authorities.
“We are going to have to demolish the neighboring buildings and try to prevent this urban disorder happening again,” Rio de Janeiro vice governor Claudio Castro told reporters.
“We need to save people’s lives and not let this happen again.”
But residents complained that Muzema and surrounding neighborhoods had long been neglected by the Rio de Janeiro government.
As soon as illegal buildings were demolished, new ones were built in their place, said Solo Melo, 32, who lives down the street from the collapsed buildings.
“This is not about suffering, it’s about being abandoned,” he told AFP.
Friday’s tragedy capped a deadly week in Rio de Janeiro. At least 10 people were killed in torrential rain on Monday and Tuesday that turned some streets into raging rivers, toppled trees and swept away vehicles.
A day before the storm, a man was shot dead in a hail of bullets fired by soldiers as he drove his family to a baby shower.
The military patrol had been on the look-out for criminals and shot Evaldo dos Santos Rosa´s vehicle by mistake.