The death toll from devastating landslides and flash flooding this month near the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro has risen to 217 after additional bodies were uncovered, authorities said, as hundreds of people remain displaced.
Police said on Friday that 42 children were among the victims of the storm that hit Petropolis on February 15, according to the latest figures – or nearly one-fifth of all fatalities.
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Thirty-three people remain unaccounted for, authorities said, while the municipality reported that nearly 900 Petropolis residents remain in emergency shelters after being forced from their homes.
The landslides followed a deluge that dumped a month’s worth of rain on the southeastern Brazilian city in several hours.
“The situation is almost like war … Cars hanging from poles, cars overturned, lots of mud and water still,” Rio de Janeiro Governor Claudio Castro told reporters the day after the storm hit.
Displaced families, who had to flee their homes after landslides and flooding devastated entire neighbourhoods, have started to fill out requests for financial aid. Each family is expected to receive about $195 (1,000 Brazilian reals) per month to find new housing.
Experts have said climate change and neglect contributed to the deadly incident.
“Rain is the great villain, but the main cause is poor land use,” Antonio Guerra, a geography professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro who has studied weather-related catastrophes in Petropolis, told The Associated Press earlier this month. “There’s a total lack of planning.”
More than 1,500 people have died in similar landslides in recent decades in that portion of the Serra do Mar range, while more than 400 people have died from heavy storms in Petropolis alone since 1981.
In the past three months, at least 236 people have died in severe storms across Brazil.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who surveyed the damage in Petropolis last week, has pledged federal assistance to help residents and rebuild areas affected by the most recent storm.