RIO DE JANEIRO – At least 17 people were missing Tuesday after floodwaters caused the collapse of a bridge in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, authorities said.
The rain-swollen Jacui River brought down a bridge near the municipality of Agudo, where crowds of curiosity-seekers had gathered to see the rising waters, police Col. João Carlos Trindade Lopes told radio Gaucha.
Trindade said that between 25-30 people fell in the water when the bridge collapsed and emergency services units were able to pull eight of them out of the current alive.
Another five people who kept from falling in the water by hanging onto trees and brush were rescued from the riverbanks.
Up to now no dead bodies have been pulled out of the river, Trinidade said, though the air base in the neighboring town of Santa Maria at first said that seven people had died.
“We can only speak of missing persons, but it would be very hard for anyone to escape from such a powerful current alive,” Trinidade said.
Two air force helicopters were flying over the region looking for survivors, aided in the search by a boat of firefighters and three more carrying volunteers.
Agudo Mayor Ari Anunciação said on radio Gaucha that the situation was “very grave” and that the strong current was impeding rescue efforts.
In recent weeks the central area of Rio Grande do Sul state has seen heavy downpours and high winds that devastated several cities.
Meanwhile, mudslides caused by torrential rains have claimed 85 lives in the Brazilian states of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais. EFE