While firefighters search for missing people under thick mud, residents in the Brazilian city of Recife can barely sleep: they fear landslides like the ones that claimed 120 lives in recent days.
“We have children, we have all our things inside the house. We stay up until dawn, afraid that the hill will fall on us,” Claudia do Rosario told AFP on Wednesday, standing at the door of her modest home with its sheet-metal roof and pink walls stained by damp.
A few streets away from her neighborhood of Vila dos Milagres, the torrential rains of last weekend caused landslides that destroyed everything in their path and buried several houses.
If it rains so heavily again, as the National Institute of Meteorology forecasts for the next few hours, the 43-year-old fears the same thing will happen to her house.
The neighbors who lost their homes “called the Civil Defense many times and they never came. They only came after the deaths occurred. Are they waiting for the same thing to happen here to come?” said Rosario, who is unemployed.
Storekeeper Maria Lucia da Silva, 37, was also worried.
“Whenever it rains, the hill gives way a little… we are all very nervous here. We call the authorities but so far they have not given us a solution, they say that the priority is in the part of the neighborhood that was most affected,” she said.
In the areas where the landslides swept in, firefighters, municipal workers and other officials were searching Wednesday for three people who remained missing, an AFP videographer confirmed.
The mayor’s office of Recife — the capital of the northeastern state of Pernambuco — set up telephone and WhatsApp lines for neighbors to report incidents, and said more than 200 officials were in the area for “cleaning, social assistance, civil defense and health.”
It said a shelter had also been set up in Vila dos Milagres to provide medical assistance, clothing and basic necessities to those who had been impacted by the disaster.
The landslides struck overnight Friday and Saturday morning, when 70 percent of the average rainfall for the entire month of May fell in some parts of the regional capital.
On Wednesday, the Pernambuco government updated the death toll to 120 and said that 7,312 people had been left homeless.
The images from Recife recalled the drama that occurred in February in Petropolis, in the southeastern state of Rio de Janeiro, where 233 people died after torrential rains and landslides.
Experts attribute such tragedies to a combination of heavy rains exacerbated by climate change and the construction of large neighborhoods with precarious housing in high-risk areas, such as hillsides.
The National Center for Monitoring and Alerts of Natural Disasters (Cemaden) estimates that some 9.5 million people live in areas at risk of landslides or flooding, many of them in favelas — poor neighbourhoods — without basic sanitation.