Toll climbs to 8 in Brazil cliff collapse, 2 missing

Rescue teams including a dive squad and members of the Brazilian Navy rushed to Furnas Lake in Minas Gerais state. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM V4GN3R/TWITTER

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - Rescuers searched Sunday (Jan 9) for two people still missing as the death toll rose to eight from a cliff that collapsed onto tourist boats on a lake in Brazil, officials said.

The latest body was found submerged under water, rescue official Rodrigo Castro of southeastern Minas Gerais state said, updating the toll from seven on Saturday.

“We have eight confirmed dead and we still need to find two missing victims,” he said.

On Saturday, panicked tourists watched helplessly from other vessels as a large rock fragment broke off a ravine and plunged onto four boats in Furnas Lake.

More than 30 people were injured, including nine who had to be hospitalised, authorities said.

Tourists flock to see the cliffs, caverns and waterfalls that surround the green waters of Lake Furnas, formed by the hydroelectric dam of the same name.

Dramatic videos shared on social networks captured the moment the cliff collapsed.

One, shared on social media, showed the minute before the incident, with several people warning that “lots of stones are falling” and yelling at the occupants of other boats to move away from the rock face.

President Jair Bolsonaro retweeted some of these videos on his account, and reported that “as soon as the unfortunate disaster occurred, the Brazilian Navy moved to the site to rescue victims and transport the injured.” A diving squad had to pause its search overnight for safety reasons, but other rescuers continued working. The divers resumed their search Sunday.

Very heavy rain has fallen in recent days in southeastern Brazil, possibly precipitating the collapse, according to firefighters.

Geographer Eduardo Bulhoes of the Fluminense Federal University told AFP rock falls in the area, where natural erosion is continually taking place, were more likely to occur during the rainy months of December and January.

To avoid future accidents, he said, it would be advisable to keep tourists further away from the cliffs during the season.

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