ANGRA DOS REIS, Brazil – A rain-loosened slab of hillside collapsed on three houses and an upscale waterfront lodge after New Year celebrations at an island resort near Rio de Janeiro, killing at least 17 people, Brazilian authorities said.
About 120 rescuers scrambled through mud and around toppled trees and large rocks to search for other survivors of the mudslide that also injured at least 10 people early Friday. Police helicopters and navy vessels were helping in the rescue efforts.
“People had never seen so much rain in this region,” Rio de Janeiro’s vice governor, Luiz Fernando Pezao, told Globo TV, and he indicated he feared the death toll could rise. “We’ll have to wait for the rescue efforts, but we’ll likely encounter a very sad outcome.”
The rain-related deaths in Rio de Janeiro state from the past three days of heavy rains reached 45, authorities said, and more rain was predicted across the region.
The mudslide apparently happened after tourists had returned to their rooms following the New Year’s celebration in the Pousada Sankay on Ilha Grande, a 90-minute ferry ride from the city of Angra dos Reis, said fire department commander Pedro Machado, who reported at least 17 people had died.
Globo TV reported that a boy and a teenage girl were among the victims, but authorities could not immediately confirm the information.
Police said some of the dead may have been in the houses. They did not immediately release the identities or nationalities of the victims.
“We were told that many of these houses here were rented by tourists for the holidays,” Pezao said.
Witnesses told local media the hillside lodge and the houses, which can only be accessed by boat, collapsed after being struck by a slab of land nearly 300 meters (330 yards) wide.
A broad, raw scar of dirt remained on the jungle hillside above the lodge that was smashed by mud, trees and other vegetation. Only a handful of houses and small patches of vegetation were left unscathed.
Wooden parts of the lodge were seen floating near the shore and on the beach.
The hotel, which advertises nightly rates of about $200 and which can accommodate 50 guests, was reportedly full at the time of the mudslide. The lodge was inaugurated in 1994, according to its Web site.
Other mudslides had killed 20 people across Rio de Janeiro state on Thursday, mostly when as shanties collapsed under mud or rain in the greater Rio de Janeiro city area. A 3-year-old girl died in a hospital on Friday after being rescued from one of the mudslides a day earlier. Her parents also died.
Eight people had died early Friday in Angra dos Reis because of other mudslides caused by the heavy rains.
Authorities said nearly 80 mudslides have been reported throughout the region, toppling trees and destroying power lines.
Local officials declared three days of mourning and canceled the town’s annual celebration on Jan. 6.