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Rain resumes in Rio and officials fear more deaths

The Associated Press
Wednesday, April 7, 2010; 2:59 AM

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Rains began pelting Rio again early Wednesday, hours after the heaviest deluge on record sent killer mudslides cascading down hillsides and turned streets into raging torrents in second-biggest city.

Authorities feared the added water could dislodge more saturated ground and raise the death toll from 95 in Rio and the neighboring city of Niteroi. Most of the deaths came when landslides smashed over shacks in slums built precariously on steep slopes.

Huge red-brown paths of destruction slashed through shantytowns. Concrete and wooden homes were crushed and hurtled downhill, only to bury other structures.

Rio, which will host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, ground to a near halt as Mayor Eduardo Paes urged workers to stay home and ordered all schools closed. Most businesses were shuttered.

Streets across the city were quiet as flooded roadways made travel nearly impossible even before rain started falling again before dawn.

Eleven inches (28 centimeters) of rain drenched Rio in less than 24 hours Tuesday, and the forecast called for more rain through the weekend, though it was expected to lessen.

Officials said potential mudslides threatened at least 10,000 homes in the city of 6 million people. Some 1,200 people were left homeless by Tuesday's downpour.

Paes urged people in endangered areas to take refuge with family or friends and he said no one should venture out.

"It is not advisable for people to leave their homes," the mayor said. "We want to preserve lives."

He told the Web site of the newspaper O Globo that the rainfall was the most that Rio had ever recorded in such a short period. The previous high was nine inches (23 centimeters) that fell on Jan. 2, 1966.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva urged Brazilians to pray for the rain to stop.

"This is the greatest flooding in the history of Rio de Janeiro, the biggest amount of rain in a single day," Silva told reporters in Rio. "And when the man upstairs is nervous and makes it rain, we can only ask him to stop the rain in Rio de Janeiro so we can go on with life in the city."

A representative for the Rio de Janeiro fire department, which was coordinating rescue efforts, said 95 people were known dead and about 100 were injured.

"We expect the death toll to rise," said the official, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Claudio Ribeiro, a 24-year-old taxi driver, spent eight hours stranded on a highway Tuesday.

"I have never seen anything like this," he said, wiping steam from the inside of his windshield to reveal a flooded roadway with hundreds of cars, taxis and buses packed together on high ground between raging torrents.

"Tell me, how is this city supposed to host the Olympics?" Ribeiro said. "Look at this chaos!"

Neither the 2014 World Cup nor the 2016 Olympics will be held during Brazil's rainy season. The rains normally fall during the Southern Hemisphere's summer in December through February, but the season has stretched into April this year.

Silva played down the possibility that similar downpours could wash out the biggest sporting events Brazil will ever host.

"Normally, the months of June and July are calmer, and Rio de Janeiro is prepared to host the Olympics and is prepared to host the World Cup with a lot of tranquility," Silva said. "It's not because of one catastrophe that we will think that it's going to happen every year, or all the time."

Rio 2016 organizers said in a statement that Tuesday's rainfall was extremely unusual and could happen anywhere in the world. Organizers praised city and state authorities for responding quickly to the public safety crisis.


Associated Press Writer Marco Sibaja in Brasilia, Brazil, contributed to this report. © ;2010 ;The Associated Press
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