Brazil, This Week in Latin America

Flash Flooding In Brazil Claims More Than 470 Lives And Shines Spotlight On Brazilian Housing Policy

January 14, 2011 By Roque Planas

Rio de Janeiro, where floods north of the city killed over 300 people.

Today in Latin America

Top Story — Flash floods and mudslides devastated the mountain towns north of the city of Rio de Janeiro beginning early Wednesday morning, bringing the death toll to at least 471 by Thursday, Bloomberg reported.

Like Haiti’s earthquake exactly one year prior, the high death toll in Brazil’s natural disaster highlighted the precarious living conditions of the country’s poor and the government’s loose enforcement of building codes.

“We saw regions where mountains fell apart,” Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said, after surveying the region by helicopter on Thursday. In Brazil, she added, “housing in high-risk areas is the rule, not the exception.”

Rousseff authorized $418 million to fund relief and rescue efforts. The Brazilian Health Ministry says it will send seven tons of medications to treat those affected by the disaster, according to The Christian Science Monitor.

“This was like a tsunami,” Vanda Cortasio, 46, told The New York Times. “People live in shacks on mountains, so many more will die it if continues to rain like this.”

Governor of Rio de Janeiro state Sérgio Cabral also faulted substandard housing policies. “It was an ominous combination of irregular housing, in many cases, and nature’s fury,” Cabral said.

Heavy rain and flooding also affected the neighboring states of Minas Gerais and São Paulo.

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