The death toll from devastating rainfall in southeastern Brazil rose to 40 on Monday, official figures showed, as President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva visited the region and said homes should no longer be built in areas at risk of landslides and major floods.
Authorities in the state of Sao Paulo said on Monday four more people had been killed in addition to 36 tallied a day earlier, but more casualties were still expected to be reported as three dozen people remained missing.
Lula flew over the coastal town of Sao Sebastiao alongside Cabinet ministers and pledged to help rebuild the town of some 91,000 people by constructing new houses in safer places.
He also said the government must work to restore key infrastructure facilities such as roads damaged by landslides.
The floods in coastal Sao Paulo state were the latest in a series of such disasters to have recently struck Brazil, where shoddy construction, often on hillsides, has tended to have tragic consequences during the country’s rainy season.
“Sometimes nature takes us by surprise, but sometimes we also tempt nature,” Lula said in a speech after meeting with Sao Paulo Governor Tarcisio de Freitas and Sao Sebastiao Mayor Felipe Augusto to coordinate their response to the disaster.
“I think it’s important that neither happen,” he added. “I express my solidarity with the people of Sao Sebastiao and I hope this never happens again.”
The deluge happened during Brazil’s Carnival holiday period, when thousands flock to the region’s beaches, likely aggravating the human toll of the natural disaster.
Sao Sebastiao was the epicentre of the flooding as 39 of the deaths were reported there, but heavy rainfall also affected nearby towns such as Ilhabela, Caraguatatuba and Ubatuba, where one casualty was reported, according to the Sao Paulo state government.
More than 2,000 people have been forced from their homes after rains of more than 600 millimeters (23.62 inches) pounded the coast of Brazil’s richest state, the government said, adding that was the highest cumulative figure ever in Brazil.
“It had been raining since Friday. The landslide reached one of the walls of our building, my mother’s and brother’s vehicles were damaged,” said Ligia Carla Samia, who was rescued by helicopter. “It was like an avalanche. Thank God we survived.”
Many others remained stranded with roads blocked by landslides.
“At some points we don’t even know what’s left of the Rio-Santos highway,” Freitas said after his meeting with Lula, referring to the main road linking the region’s towns. “We even raise the possibility that it collapsed, that the highway no longer exists.”
He declared three days of mourning in the state and a 180-day state of calamity for six towns after the disaster, the latest in a series of recent natural disasters in Brazil.
More than 200 people were killed by mudslides and floods in the colonial-era city of Petropolis near Rio de Janeiro roughly a year ago. The states of Bahia and Santa Caterina also suffered from similar disasters recently.
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