NITEROI, Brazil — As many as 200 people were buried under tons of mud and feared dead on Thursday after a slum built atop a former landfill gave way in the latest deadly landslide to hit metro Rio de Janeiro.
If confirmed, the deaths would raise the toll sharply from the 153 people already known to have died this week in slides triggered by record rains.
"We know that about 60 houses were buried," Rio state Health Secretary Sergio Cortes said. "It is hard to say exactly how many people were buried under the mud as well, but a worst-case scenario is 200."
The slide that hit late Wednesday was a wall of black earth and garbage about 40 feet high that plowed through the Morro Bumba shantytown before coming to a halt along the edge of a road in Niteroi, a city of about 500,000 across the bay from Rio.
On Thursday, crews with heavy machinery dug through the debris, and about a dozen trucks lined up to haul it off. Residents told local media that a small church, a day care center and several business were in the area and likely buried.
The ground underneath the shantytown — decades of accumulated trash — was especially unstable and vulnerable to the heavy rains, said Agostinho Guerreiro, president of Rio's main association of engineers and architects.
"It is very fragile soil. It couldn't hold (the rain). The houses came down, destroying the ones below them," Guerreiro told Globo TV. "It was a tragedy foretold."