Brazil begins burying mudslide victims
TERESOPOLIS, Brazil – As night fell Thursday, barefoot volunteers dragged a generator and stadium lights into a town cemetery, where nearly 200 freshly dug graves lay open like wounds in the red clay soil, waiting for some of the hundreds killed by torrential rains.
Funerals already had been held all day as a light rain persisted: a sister laying her brother to rest, a man burying his one-year-old niece in a small white casket, a mother who cried her nine-year-old son’s name repeatedly as he was lowered into the earth.
Small, handmade white crosses identified only by numbers – the details would have to come later – dotted the desolate, sodden hilltop.
Dozens more funerals were held yesterday and 300 more graves would be dug today, said Vitor da Costa Soares, a city worker in charge of the cemetery.
“We’ll make room.
We have to. We’ll stay up here until 10 p.m., midnight if we can, and we’ll be here at 6 a.m. tomorrow,“ he said.
At least 479 people died after heavy rains triggered mudslides before dawn on Wednesday, burying people as they slept. Survivors started digging for friends and relatives with their bare hands, kitchen utensils, whatever they could find as they waited for help in remote neighbourhoods perched precariously on steep, washed-out hillsides.
In the remote Campo Grande neighbourhood of Teresopolis, now accessible only by a perilous five-mile (eight-kilometre) hike through mud-slicked jungle, family members pulled the lifeless bodies of loved ones from the muck. They carefully laid the corpses on dry ground, covering them with blankets.
A young boy cried out as his father’s body was found: “I want to see my dad! I want to see my dad!”
Flooding and mudslides are common in Brazil when the summer rains come, but this week’s slides were among the worst in recent memory. The disasters punish the poor, who often live in rickety shacks perched perilously on steep hillsides with little or no foundations. But even the rich did not escape the damage in Teresopolis, where large homes were washed away.
“I have friends still lost in all of this mud,” said Carlos Eurico, a resident of Campo Grande, as he motioned to a sea of destruction behind him. “It’s all gone. It’s all over now. We’re putting ourselves in the hands of God.” (AP)