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Brazilian Man Rescued After Being Buried Alive in Mud for 16 Hours

Jan 18, 2011 – 11:17 AM
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Dana Kennedy

Dana Kennedy Contributor

Rescue workers in Brazil who heard "muffled noises" coming from a pile of mud and debris dug for three hours to pull out a man buried alive for 16 hours under his wrecked house.

Marcelo Fonseca's dramatic rescue from under 13 feet of mud on Monday was videotaped by a journalist friend, Luciano Zimbrao, who did not know who the buried man was until he was finally dragged out and placed on a stretcher, Brazil media reported.

Fonseca, 42, who was seen on TV with bruises and scratches from his ordeal, was hospitalized with a liver infection, but doctors say he should make a full recovery, officials said.

Fonseca is one of the lucky ones. At least 655 people in Rio de Janeiro state have died, up to 15,000 have been left homeless, and many more are missing as a result of heavy rains that began Wednesday.

Family members continued to search for loved ones in the rubble Monday as bodies remained unclaimed between fallen boulders.

The government fashioned a makeshift morgue in Teresopolis, where at least 276 people died in the floods, as a long line of people waited to identify loved ones.

The storms sent tons of earth, rock and powerful torrents of water down mountainsides and into towns and villages, devastating an area of up to 900 square miles. More rain is expected this week.

Officials estimate that it will cost up to $1.2 billion to repair the hardest-hit areas, Bloomberg Business Week reported.

Fonseca was able to recall the events leading up to the mudslide that wrecked his home near Teresopolis. "When I opened the window I heard that loud thud and I only had time to run. When I ran and reached the front door it was such a powerful thing, that I only saw some pieces of the roof flying," he said, according to Sky News.

Fonseca said he was completely trapped under the rubble and had trouble breathing. "My chest was being crushed by a stone and I was trapped; my two feet were trapped," he said.

Right around the same time Fonseca was being pulled from the rubble, a helicopter rescued 18 people, including three children and a month-old baby, in a nearby city.

Six-year-old Guilherme Carvalho yelled one word -- "Relief!" -- when he was airlifted to safety, CNN reported.

Officials and experts say the weather combined with some lax environmental policies and high-risk home construction exacerbated the catastrophe.

"Combine a weather event and environmental irresponsibility and the sum equals a tragedy," said Carlos Minc, Rio de Janeiro's environment minister.

Minc said that previous governments encouraged the building of homes on riverbanks or steep mountain slopes, a practice he says must stop given how vulnerable the houses were in the storms. Many were simply swept away or buried under rubble.

Minc also said there needs to be better disaster planning in the area.

The Rio de Janeiro state floods are the world's fourth-deadliest disaster involving floods and landslides over the past 12 months, according to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, or CRED, a Brussels-based research institute.
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