This landslide The disaster that devastated Brazil’s mountain city of Petropolis this week has destroyed homes, torn families, scarred hillsides and hearts, leaving at least one 120 dead And almost as many are missing.

It’s all largely predictable — and to some extent, preventable.

Rapid urbanization, poor planning, a lack of financing for subsidized housing — all of which plague cities in the state of Rio — and repeated warnings about the risks of hillside construction, say researchers and current and former public servants.

Now, with evidence that climate change is causing heavier rainfall, the danger is only increasing — not just in Petropolis, but elsewhere.

Antonio Guerra, a professor of geography at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, has been studying weather-related disasters in Petropolis for nearly 30 years. He visited dozens of places where homes and lives were engulfed by mudslides and investigated the root causes.

“Rain is the big bad guy, but the main reason is poor land use. There’s a complete lack of planning,” Guerra told The Associated Press.

More than 1,500 people died in similar incidents landslide In recent decades, in that part of the Serra do Mar mountain range. Since 1981, more than 400 people have died in severe storms in Petropolis alone.

The city’s haphazard sprawl is relatively recent. Located in the mountains about 64 kilometers (40 miles) from Rio de Janeiro, Petropolis was named after the former emperor of Brazil and was one of the first planned cities in the country.

Early settlers built stately dwellings along the waterways. But in recent decades, the city’s boom has attracted new immigrants from impoverished areas, and the population has grown to about 300,000.

The hillside is now littered with tiny houses, tightly packed together, built by people who were not fully aware of the danger. Many build without proper permits because they cannot afford to do so elsewhere.

Many high-risk areas are more vulnerable due to deforestation or inadequate drainage, Guerra said. Over time, people forgot about the disaster and went back to the disaster area to build their homes on unsafe land.

For nearly two decades, Yara Valverde has led the local offices of federal environmental regulators. In 2001, she launched the city’s first hydrogeological risk warning system, installing plastic bottles in communities to collect rainfall. When they reach a certain level, an alarm goes off.

No public funding was allocated for the program, so she recruited volunteers.

Deadly floods and mudslides wash away homes and cars [Silvia Izquierdo/AP Photo]

Between 2007 and 2010, Guerra and a team of civil engineers and geologists mapped the Petropolis hazard area and sent their findings to the city. The following January, heavy rains triggered a landslide that killed nearly 1,000 people, including 71 in Petropolis. It is considered the worst natural disaster ever recorded in Brazil.

The city has realized the problem. In 2017, authorities noted that 18 percent of the city’s population, including about 20,000 households, were at high or very high risk. An additional 7,000 people will need to be resettled under a plan by the city that calls for the construction of affordable housing and a halt to new construction in high-risk areas.

Guerra, Valverde, NGOs and residents say little has been done to achieve this vision. Petropolis has little space available for new, safe construction, and removing residents from existing homes is politically unpopular — often with nowhere near their original homes to relocate residents.

Citing official figures, Brazilian daily Folha de S Paulo reported that the Rio state government spent less than half of its disaster prevention and relief plans.

The Rio State Construction and Infrastructure Secretariat said in an email to The Associated Press that it is the city’s responsibility to inspect high-risk areas, housing policies and evictions. The city did not respond to repeated inquiries for information on how many households have been relocated since 2017 and what other steps are being taken to implement the program.

Brazilian President Bolsonaro Attempts to deflect responsibility, saying there is a limited budget for preventive measures. “A lot of times, we can’t guard against everything that could happen,” he said Friday from Petropolis after flying over the disaster.

relatives cryHeavy rains are common in the area, especially during the southern hemisphere summer months between December and March [Silvia Izquierdo/AP Photo]

Dozens of hillside homes were destroyed by a landslide on Tuesday in the heaviest rainfall since 1932. Cars and buses were swept away in the flood, leaving traces of devastation on city streets.

The downpour continued to add to the atmosphere of fear and distress in the city as residents searched for missing relatives and friends.

Heavy rains are common in the area, especially during the southern hemisphere summer months, between December and March. But experts say the rainfall appears to be getting heavier as the climate changes.

“They’re both extreme weather events that happen very close together. Climate change will also increase the frequency of events, and we’re obviously watching that,” said Marcelo Seluchi, coordinator of the government’s National Centre for Natural Disaster Monitoring and Warning. “It’s not about focusing on specific events, it’s about focusing on the whole.”

southeastern brazil It has been punished by heavy rain since the beginning of the year. More than 40 people were killed in mudslides in Minas Gerais state in early January and São Paulo state later that month.

This was followed by months of drought — Brazil’s worst in nine years — that caused hydroelectric reservoirs in the southeast to drop to levels that sparked fears of possible power rationing.

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