SAO SEBASTIAO, Brazil (AP) — Hundreds of residents of a rain-battered region in Brazil’s Sao Paulo state were scrambling to find water and daily supplies Wednesday after floods and mudslides cut off their communities and left at least 48 people dead.
Government and private aid groups were trying to provide necessities, but the logistics of reaching the isolated towns was creating difficulties. Authorities said they have reopened some damaged roadways into the region, but that recovery will take time.
Rescue operations continue and firefighters, police and volunteers still hope to find people alive in the rubble of houses slammed by the landslides. Some 1,730 people have been displaced and 1,810 left homeless, according to the Sao Paulo state government.
The homeless are being sheltered in schools, kindergartens and churches in Sao Sebastiao. Around 7.5 tons of aid items including food, water and hygiene kits have already been distributed to the victims, according to the state government of Sao Paulo.
But not all aid has reached its intended destination, with criminals taking advantage of the chaos and looting trucks carrying donations, Sao Paulo state’s Gov. Tarcísio de Freitas told the G1 news outlet.
Brazil’s Environment Minister Marina Silva visited Barra do Sahy on Wednesday. Resident Reuri Nascimento, 33, told Silva he removed 22 bodies using his quadbike. He complained that victims of the floods and landslides had been abandoned and said supplies were not reaching them.
“Why aren’t the police here to help us? There’s food trafficking, we don’t know where the food is going,” he said.
Silva said President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s government was working to improve the situation. “We’re going to have to work to adapt the city, focusing on the poorest who are those who live near the hillside,” Silva said.
Dozens are still missing, among which are Antônio Muniz’s 22-year-old daughter and son-in-law. Recently married, Muniz’s daughter was living in a rented house in Barra do Sahy, a district of the hardest-hit mountainous coastal municipality of Sao Sebastiao.
Muniz was digging through the mud on Wednesday where his daughter’s house, hit by a mudslide, used to be.
“We’re asking God for help, to at least find her body,” he said.
The municipality of Sao Sebastiao said 26 bodies have been identified, of which seven are children.
Famous for beach resorts and flanked by mountains, the affected area is a frequent Carnival destination for rich city-dwellers who prefer to stay away from the massive street parties in their hometowns.
With supplies running low, tensions have emerged between wealthy tourists and poorer permanent residents.
Cida Fonseca, a 47-year-old woman who sells salty pastries on the beach in Barra do Sahy, said that when her daughter went to the shop to buy eggs, she found only water.
“They are buying everything. Instead of taking, they should leave,” she said.
Fonseca has lost friends and neighbors, while her house was flooded but not destroyed. For drinking water, she is relying on a small institution that is organizing donations and serving as a base for homeless people.
Lula visited the region on Monday and called for people living in the hillside areas to be relocated to safer regions. But some residents who left their homes later discovered that they had been vandalized, Gov. de Freitas said. As a result, some have returned to their houses, located in at risk areas, and are refusing to leave, he added.
On Wednesday a local court granted Sao Paulo state and the municipality of Sao Sebastiao permission to force residents from at-risk areas who refuse to move as a last resort, the Sao Paulo state government said.
An Associated Press reporter was told that opportunists from outside have poured into the area with boats, charging stranded tourists up to 300 reais (nearly $60) to make the short trip between Barra do Sahy and neighboring Juquehy.
But fisherman Edmilson Germano has been making the same trip for free. He made 30 trips on Tuesday, taking people away from Barra da Sahy to Juquehy and returning with food.
“We do what we can to help people,” the 49-year-old said.