Authorities in the Brazilian state of São Paulo Wednesday said that the death toll from last weekend's heavy rains and subsequent mudslides had reached 48 as relief teams are still looking for the 40 people still missing, particularly in the mountain of mud formed by the mudslides in the beach resort of Barra do Sahy.
The State's government said in an official release that 47 of the people killed by the mudslides and floods were from the municipality of São Sebastião and one from Ubatuba. After three days of rescue works, three children were rescued alive from the mud, while 28 people remained hospitalized, including 6 minors, it was also reported.
The Brazilian Navy also set up a mobile port in the area for the departure of people who cannot leave the seaside resorts due to the damage to roads in the region, 190 kilometers northeast of the city of São Paulo, South America's largest.
The area of the landslides is one of the busiest in terms of tourism in the state of São Paulo, where last weekend it rained in only 24 hours twice as much as expected for the whole of February, one of the highest records in Brazil.
Brazil's National Center for Natural Disaster Monitoring and Alerts (Cemaden) has warned the Civil Defense of São Paulo about the possibility of a meteorological event of major proportions. Cemaden Director Osvaldo Moraes even warned of the event through the media about the need to relocate people living in the affected risk areas, but the local warning system was not activated as indicated.
Residents of Barra do Sahy, one of the neighborhoods of São Sebastião most affected by storms told Agência Brasil that they did not receive any warning whatsoever about the risk of landslides due to heavy rains in the region last weekend, despite Cemaden's claims.
We, from the community, were the ones who actually warned: 'Run, the hill is coming down', says Wagner de Oliveira, a local resident who helped rescue victims was quoted by Agência Brasil as saying.
São Sebastião Mayor Felipe Augusto also said that the city administration issued alerts starting at 9 pm on Saturday (18). The first alert was published on the city's Twitter account at 7 am on Sunday, after the storm.
A report dated December 2018 by the Institute for Technological Research (IPT), linked to the Secretariat of Economic Development of the State of São Paulo, showed that there were 161 dwellings in São Sebastião in areas of high risk for landslides, Agência Brasil also noted. The document pointed out that 2,043 houses were in areas of medium or low risk for landslides in the municipality. However, the IPT document did not list the Barra do Sahy area. IPT Technical Director Fabricio Mirandola argued that the area may have had an increase in irregular occupation since the report was published.
Part of the people who were affected were no longer inside their homes, they were in the streets and alleys, leaving, fleeing from their dwellings. When we have this process of soil liquefaction, this material tends to follow the path of the streets, because the street normally follows the natural path of the water, he said.
The director also pointed out that the 2018 report was based on data from the historical average of rainfall in the area and did not foresee last Sunday's atypical occurrences, which might be heralding a new trend.
(with input from Agência Brasil and other sources)
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