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Girl buried under rubble rescued after 16 hours as storm kills at least 12 in Brazil

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Search teams in southeastern Brazil rescued a girl buried for more than 16 hours in the rubble of a collapsed house, following a powerful storm on Friday that has so far claimed at least a dozen lives.

Authorities have deployed teams to the mountainous areas of Rio de Janeiro state, describing the situation caused by the deluge as “critical”. Four of the deaths in Rio state occurred when the storm caused a house to collapse in the city of Petropolis, 70 kilometres inland from the capital.

The girl’s father, who was found dead next to her on Saturday morning, had “heroically protected the girl with his body,” a neighbour told AFP.

“We are in pain, but grateful for this miracle,” said Luis Claudio de Souza, 63.

The deluge came as Brazil, South America’s largest country, is suffering through a recent string of extreme weather events, which experts say are more likely to occur due to climate change.

At least nine people have been killed in the state of Rio de Janeiro, officials said, while the neighbouring state of Espirito Santo has confirmed at least four dead and seven missing.

Such environmental tragedies “are intensifying with climate change,” President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said in a post on X, adding that thousands had been rendered homeless by the storm.

He expressed sympathy with the victims and said his government was working with state and local authorities to “protect, prevent and repair flood damage.”

Espirito Santo governor Renato Casagrande said the situation in the town of Mimoso do Sul was “chaotic,” with the number of fatalities there yet to be determined. In Sao Paolo state, two children were hospitalized for injuries sustained during the storm on Friday.

Rio Governor Claudio Castro on Friday said the situation in Petropolis was “critical” due to “intense rains and the overflowing of the Quitandinha River.”

Dozens of soldiers with dogs were deployed to the scene in Rio, while schools opened their doors to the displaced, Castro said.

Around 90 people have been rescued since Friday, according to a bulletin from an emergency committee comprising Rio government and civil defence officials.

Images on local media showed rivers of water, mud and debris rushing down slopes in picturesque Petropolis, which saw at least 241 deaths from another catastrophic storm in February 2022.

In Mimoso do Sul, a fire truck was seen being dragged down a street by currents, while images released on Saturday by the state fire department showed entire neighbourhoods underwater, with only the roofs of houses visible above the surface.

Forecasts predicted heavy rainfall continuing Saturday in the mountains and north of Rio. Petropolis has already recorded 30 centimetres in 24 hours, while other cities, such as Teresopolis and Mage, added more than 22cm, according to official estimates.

The National Institute of Meteorology predicted a severe storm, particularly in Rio, with rainfall of 20cm a day from Friday through Sunday. Normally, the area receives 14cm of rain in March.

Rio authorities declared an administrative holiday on Friday as the storm approached and urged people to stay home. The storm follows a record heatwave, where humidity helped send the heat index soaring above 62 degrees Celsius.


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