Powerful, ‘abnormal’ rains lash Rio de Janeiro, at least six dead

Firefighters work at the site of a mudslide after a heavy rain at the Babilonia slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

By Pedro Fonseca and Rodrigo Viga Gaier

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Torrential rains doused Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday, killing at least six people and sowing chaos in Brazil’s second largest city, which declared a state of emergency after a storm that the mayor described as “absolutely abnormal.”

A bus is seen underneath trees uprooted by heavy rains in the Leblon neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

A bus is seen underneath trees uprooted by heavy rains in the Leblon neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

A woman and her 7-year-old granddaughter were buried in a mudslide as they rode in a taxi, and the driver’s body was also found inside the vehicle, police detective Valeria Aragao told O Globo newspaper. Two adult sisters died when their home in a slum was buried in a mudslide, while a man drowned in another part of the city, the mayor’s office said in a statement.

The rains began around Monday evening and had not let up by midday Tuesday, with a heavy downpour forecast through the end of the day. More than 34 cm (13 inches) of rain fell on parts of the city in the last 24 hours, according to the mayor’s office.

Videos on local news showed normally calm residential streets turned into raging torrents that dragged people and cars. A coastal bike path meant to be a legacy of the 2016 Olympics that had been weakened by previous storms suffered more damage, with chunks of the path falling into the sea.

“These rains are absolutely abnormal for this time of year; none of us expected so much rain at this time,” Mayor Marcelo Crivella told an early morning news conference.

The mayor’s office declared a state of emergency on Monday night. Major roads were closed, and the mayor’s office said 785 places were without power.

Emergency services acted to rescue people trapped in cars and on the streets. TV images on Tuesday showed divers examining a car submerged in a flooded underpass.

A truck is seen stuck on a flooded street during heavy rains in the Jardim Botanico neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

A truck is seen stuck on a flooded street during heavy rains in the Jardim Botanico neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

Rio’s streets were quieter than usual on Tuesday, as nearly all schools shut and people worked from home to avoid the risk of being trapped at work.

It was the second major storm in two months to batter Rio. A violent tempest that hit the city in February killed at least seven people.

(Reporting by Pedro Fonseca and Rodrigo Viga Gaier in Rio de Janeiro; Additional reporting by Gabriel Stargardter in Rio and Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler)

Rio de Janeiro Councilwoman, sharp critic of police killings, shot dead

A woman reacts next to a picture of the Rio de Janeiro city councillor Marielle Franco, 38, who was shot dead, during a demonstration ahead of her wake outside the city council chamber in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil March 15, 2018. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

By Brad Brooks

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – A popular Rio de Janeiro city councilwoman who was an outspoken critic of police killings of poor residents in shantytowns was gunned down in what police, prosecutors and even drug gang leaders said on Thursday looked like a political assassination.

Marielle Franco, 38, a rising star in the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL), was killed along with her driver in northern Rio around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday night. Her press secretary survived the shooting on Rio’s dangerous north side.

The killing comes just weeks after the federal government decreed that Brazil’s Army would take over all security operations through the end of the year in Rio, where murders have spiked in recent years. Franco had harshly criticized that move on Sunday, saying it could worsen police violence against residents.

Demonstrators react outside the city council chamber ahead of the wake of Rio de Janeiro's city councillor Marielle Franco, 38, who was shot dead, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil March 15, 2018. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

Demonstrators react outside the city council chamber ahead of the wake of Rio de Janeiro’s city councillor Marielle Franco, 38, who was shot dead, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil March 15, 2018. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

“It is far too soon to say, but were are obviously looking at this as a murder in response to her political work, that is a main theory,” said a Rio de Janeiro public prosecutor, who spoke on condition that he not be named as he was not authorized to discuss the case.

An investigator with Rio’s police force also said that the prime motive appeared to be Franco’s calling out police for allegedly killing innocents in their constant battles with drug gangs.

Franco, who was raised and lived in the Mare complex of slums, long one of Rio’s more dangerous areas, received over 46,500 votes in the 2016 election. That total was only bested by four of 51 council members.

On Sunday on her verified Facebook account, Franco decried what she alleged to be the police killing of two boys during a police raid in an area called Acari.

“We must scream out so that all know what is happening in Acari right now. Rio’s police are terrorizing and violating those who live in Acari,” Franco wrote. “This week two youth were killed and tossed into a ditch. Today, the police were in the street threatening those who live there. This has been going on forever and will only be worse with a military intervention.”

Calls to the police unit assigned to the Acari area were not returned. In a Sunday statement to the O Dia newspaper, police confirmed they carried out an operation in the area, were fired upon by drug traffickers, returned fire but had no knowledge of any deaths.

The car in which Rio de Janeiro city councilor Marielle Franco was shot dead is towed from the crime scene in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil March 15, 2018. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

The car in which Rio de Janeiro city councilor Marielle Franco was shot dead is towed from the crime scene in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil March 15, 2018. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

Franco was raised and lived in Mare, a complex of slums where about 130,000 residents must contend with the presence of Rio’s two most powerful gangs – the Red Command and the Pure Third Command, along with militias often made up of off duty or retired police and fireman, who are as feared as the gangs.

High-level members of both the Red Command and the Pure Third Command told Reuters their gangs had nothing to do with the killings. It was impossible to reach any militia members.

Raul Jungmann, who heads the federal government’s newly created Public Security Ministry, said at an event in Sao Paulo that what Franco’s killing was “a tragedy.”

“Another lamentable daily tragedy that takes place in Rio de Janeiro. We must understand extremely well the reasons behind this and go after those responsible,” he said. “But this does not put at risk the federal intervention.”

Jungmann said that federal investigators would be involved in the investigation and that he had put Brazil’s federal police at the disposition of local investigators.

Vigils and protests were planned in at least seven major cities across Brazil and about 150 members of the PSOL party carried flowers and signs into Brazil’s federal Congress on Thursday demanding justice.

The United Nations office in Brazil and Amnesty International demanded a quick and transparent investigation into Franco’s killing.

(Additional reporting by Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo Simoes in Sao Paulo and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Editing by David Gregorio)

Water Main Break In Rio Kills Girl

Three-year-old Isabella Severo dos Santos was caught in her home when water from the broken pipe flooded the Campo Grande neighborhood. Water shot 65 feet into the air from the pipe and forced many emergency rescues.

“Our job was to get people out of their homes as the flooding spread,” Col. Sergio Simoes told GloboNews TV as rescue teams used rubber dinghies to reach areas of the neighborhood inundated with water. Continue reading