RIO DE JANEIRO – The death toll from the collapse of a pair of four-story residential buildings in a militia-controlled neighborhood of this southeastern Brazilian metropolis climbed to seven on Saturday, authorities said.
Rescue teams, meanwhile, are continuing to search for a dozen people who remain missing in the wake of Friday’s tragedy.
Around 100 firefighters have been sifting through the wreckage of the collapsed buildings in a neighborhood on Rio de Janeiro’s west side known as Muzema in hopes of finding more survivors.
According to the latest official bulletin, seven people have died, two of whom were rescued alive but later succumbed to their injuries at a local hospital; 10 others were injured, while at least 12 are listed as missing.
The two buildings that collapsed on Friday were unlicensed, shoddily built constructions located in a difficult-to-access district controlled by militias, according to Rio de Janeiro’s mayor’s office, which warned that 30 other buildings in that area are in a similar condition.
Area residents say the militias – criminal organizations made up of corrupt current and former police officers that control various parts of this metropolis of nearly 7 million people – seize plots of land in Muzema and build residences that they subsequently sell illegally.
Due to the risk of further building collapses, authorities have evacuated at least 20 families, some of whom have camped out in the street while waiting to return to their homes.
The Muzema neighborhood is located near Rio das Pedras, a favela (shantytown) on Rio’s west side where the militias first emerged and continue to hold the most sway.
Muzema was formerly controlled by a group of militias led by Military Police Maj. Ronald Paulo Alves Pereira, who was arrested in February in an operation against these groups.
The militias started as gang-fighting outfits but now run their own criminal rackets.
Rio de Janeiro remains in a state of alert on Saturday due to torrential rains in recent days that are regarded as the worst of the past 22 years and which have caused at least 10 fatalities and widespread damage.
Rain-triggered mudslides and flooding have paralyzed some neighborhoods of southern and western Rio and swept away numerous vehicles.