Last Tuesday evening, the storm started rolling in. I usually enjoy watching storms, but as the hours passed, I could tell that this was different, that this was a “cabeca dagua” or cloudburst, which I have seen one time before and know the destructive power that can be unleashed by it.
As time passed, from my house here on the farm, I could see the lightning and hear the thunder, although hardly a drop of rain fell here, I knew that right across the mountain, somewhere was catching it. I tried to sleep, but sleep was impossible as I could sense the storm raging.
At approximately 5am in the morning, my son Johann, who lives in the center of Nova Friburgo, called me to tell me that a landslide had fallen on his street, and that he had joined a dear friend of ours, Sgt. Marcos Verly, trying to dig out people that had been buried alive. Barely 40 minutes later he called me crying, telling me that a second landslide had fallen, that he had managed to get out in time, but that Sgt. Verly and 3 other firemen had been buried, along with his cousins and other people who were helping also. A few minutes later my other daughter, Michelle called in a panic, saying that she could see multiple landslides from her house, and that she was afraid that her house might come down also.
At this point, phone communication ceased, leaving me blind and overcome with worry. I knew that using a car would be impossible, so I borrowed a motorcycle and went into town to look for my family. The scene of destruction that I encountered is beyond description. It was mudslide after mudslide, the river that runs through Nova Friburgo had risen more than 7 or 8 meters above its normal level, leaving a complete mess of mud and debris.
Luckily, I found all my kids safe, although they live right in the center of things. My son Johann was in a state of shock, having seen friends buried alive right in front of his eyes. At this point, I need to tell a dramatic story about the site which my son was at trying to help. Among the people buried were a family of 4, husband, wife, 11-month-old son and grandmother. Marcos Verly and Johann knew they were alive, and were trying to get to them along with the other firemen, when the second landslide fell, and then still a 3rd one even bigger, engulfed everything.
Big machinery was brought in, to try and dig out the people that had been originally buried, and also the rescuers. As they dug, they started hearing someone calling, turns out was the father, who had managed to dig under the debris to his 11-month-old son, he held him against his chest, and both were miraculously alive, although the mother and grandmother were dead right beside him. As the hours passed, that father gathered saliva in his mouth and fed it to the baby, later, rescuers managed to get a tube into to the debris and gave water to the father, who would fill his mouth and give it the baby. His description of how he did this, and how the baby would grab his face and fit its mouth on his in desperation for water makes me weep! Finally, 16 hours after they had been buried, they were dug out alive. I happened to be there when the baby was freed from the mud as I was bringing water to the rescuers as they worked tirelessly with the slim hope of finding people alive.
The next day, I gathered all the equipment I had, and went and volunteered myself to the fire department, to help in any way possible in the attempt to find more people. The scene was completely chaotic, the Fire Department was overwhelmed with a disasters of gigantic proportions, and to make things worse, no cell phone or land line communication were available whatsoever.
There I began a journey of 6 days of nonstop missions to help the people of Nova Friburgo. The stories of entire families buried alive are so frequent that this has become the norm! Thousands of people trying to dig out their loved ones, and in doing so, failing to realize that they were putting themselves into still more danger, as the 300mm of rain had left all the terrain extremely unstable. Whole communities were isolated, as bridges were wiped out, and hundreds of landslides blocked all the roads.
After the initial loss of life to the mudslides and flooding, this was to be the largest crisis to be faced, and is still at this very moment, a crisis of huge proportions. There are pockets of communities all over the region, most very poor even in normal times, and now without water, electricity food and even the most basic necessities. The effort is now to bring aid to these people, I spent days using my dirt bike to reach these small communities, access their needs, bring the information back to the professional rescuers effort to try and get help to them. Since it is impossible to get food and water in by road, more than 30 helicopters are working day and night to get the food to them, but even so, still many people are in precarious situations.
Besides this, many people of all walks of life have been economically wiped out, whole businesses disappearing under the mud. This will bring even more stress as time passes, because of the loss of jobs and economic activity.
We will now face the second phase of the disaster, as the hundreds if not thousands of people buried will start putrefying, although they are too deep to be reached, the gases and fluids will seep through, bring illness and stench.
The population has been heroic in dealing with what is the largest natural disaster in Brazilian history, normal people in the streets guiding traffic, people forming human chains to unload donations, volunteers backpacking water and milk to the isolated communities, everyone coming together in a huge effort to help there brothers. There has come one positive out of this catastrophe.
Brazil has been blessed by not having large disasters like this one throughout history, watching other catastrophes through the news. Now that one has hit our doorstep, the population has risen to the challenge, in a completely unselfish, heroic way, organizing themselves out of nothing to deal with the daunting challenges that now face this region.
Please, keep up the prayers, the help and the thoughts, although this will all be out of the media, many good people will still be suffering for a long time.
Myself and my friends have started a charity that will go directly to these people. No middle organizations will be involved.
Please help if you can. www.combatathletecharities.com