Landslides and flooding in Brazil

A post by Anne JeffersonWhile Australia continues to cope with widespread flooding in Queensland and elsewhere and the death toll continues to rise (at least 20 people), in Brazil landslides and flooding in the past week have claimed at least 700 lives. Yet international coverage of the Brazilian tragedy has been scant at best.

Four days of torrential rainfall (blamed on La Nina) triggered numerous landslides and flash floods in the Serrana region near Rio de Janeiro. A month’s worth of rain fell in just a few hours and flood waters rose quickly. Neighborhoods perched on steep hillslopes were destroyed by landslides, while low-lying areas were inundated by floods. Most of the casualties have come from four towns, but some isolated areas are still completely cut-off.

Landslide scars in Brazil, January 2011

Landslides in Nova Friburgo, Brazil, January 2011 (photo from Rio de Janeiro state government, via Sacramento Bee's The Frame Blog

Some blame is being placed on poor housing construction, but from the photos and videos I’ve seen, the problem seems to be dense populations in high risk areas. More problematically, it appears that response by the Brazilian government has been slow and there are concerns about clean water and the threat of a disease epidemic amongst survivors. While it is hoped that the worst rain is over, light but steady rainfall is predicted for the next few days, and with saturated soils there will likely be more slides and more deaths. Even without fresh slides, the death toll will likely rise substantially as recovery efforts continue.

But it’s not just Brazil, Australia, and Pakistan that have been suffering from devastating floods, but Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and South Africa have also been hard hit by floods in the last week.

Categories: by Anne, geohazards, hydrology
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Comments (3)

  1. Carlos Faria says:

    I have written about this theme too, but in Portuguese, I know Nova Friburgo, Teresópolis and Petrópolis, I have been there in 1993. there are touristics towns in a mountain-range region not far from Rio that expanded too fast in last years and there are a lot of poor people leaving on the rivers shores and hillslopes sorroudings towns, the big problem: land planning, but it is not easy to solve.

  2. Thanks for another great article. I’m a middle school science teacher and I’ve been working all this year to connect current events to what our curriculum teaches. Students really relate to this kind of bringing science into where they’ll use it….so often we forget that science is just a way to interpret what’s happening around us all the time.
    Your blog consistently helps me find ways to make this connection accessible for my kids. I know they appreciate it (although they don’t know it) because it makes class interesting for them. I use so many of the hyperlinked resources, images and explanations you offer.
    So thanks…you are making a huge difference in the science education of my 160+ science students. Considering that this might be the only year of earth science they ever have….well, the impact of what you give is huge.


  3. Eric Fielding says:

    Nice posting! One huge problem they have in Brazil is the lack of enforcement of building laws. An article yesterday in the Brazilian newspaper O Globo ( ) said that 60% of the homes were constructed without building permits in the township of Nova Friburgo, where the largest number of people were killed. Several efforts to remove illegally constructed houses were hung up in the courts, including one case that took 17 years to be decided. Those houses were removed by the floods last week, showing that nature moves faster than the courts.

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