By Agence France-Presse
Torrential rain left seven people dead in Rio de Janeiro, officials said Tuesday, as emergency workers raced to rescue people trapped by the downpour and clean-up efforts got under way.
Heavy rain that began Monday evening and continued into Tuesday triggered flash floods, turning some streets into raging rivers, toppling trees and sweeping away cars as the state emergency agency declared a crisis.
The southern zone of the city, which includes Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon and Leme as well as several impoverished favela areas, has been hardest hit.
Heavy runoff from neighboring hills gushed through some apartment buildings and shops, leaving behind mud and debris.
The bodies of three people were found in a car buried behind an upmarket shopping center on Tuesday afternoon, while two women died when a house in a favela collapsed, the Fire Department said in a statement.
One man died after he was electrocuted in a house, while another was caught in a torrent of water.
Cars and buses were crushed by fallen trees, and pavement was ripped up by the force of the water.
Many people returning home Monday evening or trying to go to work on Tuesday were drenched as they waded through knee-deep water in the relentless downpour.
Some people climbed fences to avoid flooded streets, while others tied plastic bags around their feet to protect themselves from the polluted water.
Beaches normally packed with people sunbathing or playing sports were empty as brown water flowed into the ocean.
“Many houses in Rio are built in areas that are inappropriate, in places where water flows. It´s a tragedy and we have tried to warn these people,” Rio de Janeiro mayor Marcelo Crivella told local media.
Schools throughout the city suspended classes and power was knocked out in some areas as heavy rain complicated rescue and clean-up efforts.
Crivella said the downpour had been “totally atypical.”
Rio de Janeiro state governor Wilson Witzel expressed sympathy for the “families of the victims” on Twitter.
“The whole state is helping in what is necessary,” he said.
Heavy rain often causes flash flooding in Rio de Janeiro as the volume of water overwhelms the city’s creaky infrastructure and brings traffic to a halt.
Favelas, which often lack proper streets and sanitation, are spread across hills throughout the city and are usually the hardest hit by downpours.
Torrential rain in February killed at least six people in Rio de Janeiro.