As Brazil prepared to celebrate its annual carnival, tragedy struck when torrential rains caused flooding and landslides in coastal areas of southeast Brazil.
At least 36 people have died, with dozens still unaccounted for as rescue efforts struggle on against the rough weather.
Several homes have been destroyed by this natural disaster, while towns are cut off from communication due to blocked roads – trapping an unknown number of tourists who had also arrived for carnival festivities.
In some places, Sunday’s rainfall reached more than 627 millimeters (24.6 inches), or over double the expected monthly total.
Floods and landslides killed over 35 people in Brazil after a near-record 24 inches of rain fell in 1 day.
50+ homes in Sao Paolo state collapsed and hundreds are homeless. Officials expect "many more deaths."
Scientists blame the climate crisis for increasing extreme weather. pic.twitter.com/bp2z2UGBju
— AJ+ (@ajplus) February 20, 2023
“Search and rescue teams are not managing to get to several places; it is a chaotic situation,” said Felipe Augusto, the mayor of the hard-hit town of São Sebastião.
“We have not yet gauged the scale of the damage. We are trying to rescue the victims.”
Hard time rescuing people
On Monday, 500 rescuers started the rescue operation to bring aid and help in desperate times – but persistent rainfall prevented progress.
Their efforts were part of a daring mission: searching for survivors buried beneath the rubble, reopening impassible roads, and restoring connections among communities.
Over 50 homes were destroyed, leaving 228 residents without shelter. A further 338 individuals had to be evacuated from areas north of the city, leading officials to declare that circumstances still remain ‘extremely critical.’
“Unfortunately, we are going to have many more deaths,” a civil defense official told the newspaper Folha de São Paulo.
State calamity declared in 6 towns in Brazil
In response to the heartbreaking calamity that befell six towns in his state, Governor Tarcísio de Freitas declared a 180-day period of calamity and allocated $1.5 million for disaster relief.
In an outpouring of compassion during this dire time, he showed solidarity with those affected by asking all citizens to join him in three days of mourning and symbolic grief for the victims whose lives have been changed forever by this tragedy.
Decretei luto oficial no Estado por três dias em memória das vítimas das fortes chuvas que atingiram o Litoral Norte. Peço a Deus que conforte o coração dessas famílias. Seguiremos trabalhando e não descansaremos até que todos os desalojados e desabrigados estejam em segurança.
— Tarcísio Gomes de Freitas (@tarcisiogdf) February 20, 2023
The normally bustling beaches of the northern coastline were notably empty of life and color during this carnival season.
Carnival plans, both great and small alike, had to be put on hold as disaster relief teams worked relentlessly in Sao Sebastiao, Ubatuba, Ilhabela, and Bertioga – areas which have all declared a state of calamity after experiencing tremendous destruction from natural forces.
Brazil’s carnival returns to Rio
Thousands of people participate in the carnival block "Sympathy is almost love", on Ipanema beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. EFE/ Antonio Lacerda pic.twitter.com/LuzRPCji9k
— Antonio Lacerda (@lacerdafoto) February 20, 2023
Rio de Janeiro’s renowned colorful Carnival festival resumed this year after being postponed and canceled for years due to the pandemic, but in certain cities, the festivities were canceled due to disastrous mudslides.
The streets of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, were transformed into a symphony of music, dancing, and parades by the free and brilliantly colorful gatherings known as blocos.
Brazil’s government expects as many as 46 million people to attend the annual event, which started on Friday, February 17, and will last through Wednesday, February 22.
More than 600 street festival permits have been issued in Rio, with many more unofficial celebrations likely to spring up in the coming days.