“According to the updated information I have, we have registered 44 dead, 56 missing, 25 injured, 3,957 homeless and 533 displaced,” Regional Development Minister Daniel Ferreira told a news conference in Recife. .
The latest official report, established Saturday afternoon, reported 34 dead since Wednesday, as well as more than 1,300 displaced or homeless people, without estimating the number of missing.
During a lull, some 1,200 men, with helicopters and boats, resumed the search for the missing and isolated people on Sunday morning.
The storm caused landslides on hillsides, overflowing rivers and large torrents of mud that swept away everything in their path.
Footage released by local authorities on Sunday shows rescuers and volunteers clearing debris in Jardim Monteverde, on the border between Recife and the municipality of Jaboatao dos Guararapes.
It is in this region where there are slums that the greatest tragedy occurred on Saturday morning, when a landslide killed 19 people.
– “Eleven people in my family died” –
Eleven of those killed in this landslide were relatives of Luiz Estevao Aguiar, questioned in tears by TV Globo.
“My sister died, my brother-in-law died, eleven people in my family died, it was difficult. It was very difficult. I did not expect this,” said the elderly man, who lives in another town.
Behind him, a human chain of people with their feet sunk in the mud passed buckets of debris rolling down the hill.
Authorities had warned on Saturday that heavy rain was forecast for Sunday, but the storm finally subsided on Sunday morning.
Between Friday evening and Saturday morning, the volume of precipitation reached 70% of what is normally expected for the whole of May in parts of Pernambuco.
“Although it has stopped raining, we are expecting heavy rain in the coming days. The first thing to do is therefore to maintain self-protection measures,” said the minister, who flew over the disaster area in company of other Brazilian officials.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Sunday morning that he would travel to Recife on Monday.
The meteorologist Estael Sias, of the MetSul agency, explained to AFP that the heavy rains which affect Pernambuco and, to a lesser extent, four other states in the north-east of the country, result from a phenomenon typical of this time of the year, the “eastern waves”, i.e. zones of “atmospheric disturbance” which move from the African continent towards the Brazilian coastal region.
“In other areas of the Atlantic, this instability forms hurricanes, but in northeast Brazil it has the potential to produce a lot of rain including thunderstorms,” he explained.
The images of the weekend recall the tragedy that occurred in February in Petrópolis, in the state of Rio de Janeiro (southeast), where 233 people were killed during torrential rains and mudslides.
According to experts, this type of tragedy also results from the topography of the places and the presence of large slums with mostly illegally built dwellings in steep risky areas.