A city that will never feel the same
It was a typical Tuesday afternoon in Petrópolis, Brazil, north of Rio De Janeiro until it wasn’t. What once was a city of peace and history was soon filled with mud and sorrow.
On Feb. 15, 2022, the citizens of Petrópolis simply had no warning of the weather to come. Civilians are accustomed to the monthly amount of rain in their city varying from anywhere from 8 inches to 13 inches, according to the Climate Change Knowledge Portal.
Citizens like Daniela Faria, owner of a blacksmith store, who has lived in the city for 17 years, described that she has never seen an event so terrifying in her life.
“We are used to 20 centimeters of overflow in the river surrounding our city but it normally goes down quickly,” Faria said. “But on this day it wouldn’t stop overflowing in just a matter of 30 minutes. Next thing we know we see people’s couches and things from their houses flowing down our road.”
The major city of Rio De Janeiro implements a siren system from the government for civilians to be prepared for any weather emergency. As Faria explained the government was aware of the amounts of rain that was predicted but no warning was enough to foresee the disaster to the city of Petrópolis.
According to the National Center for Monitoring and Alerting Natural Disasters, approximately 259.8 millimeters of rain were recorded which is about 10.2 inches of rainfall overflowing the river. In just three hours, the amount of rain was equivalent to a month’s worth.
“The city felt like a horror movie,” Faria said. “It felt like I was in an episode of the ‘Walking Dead’, I couldn’t believe it.”
Faria and her family were in no contact the night of the flood because of the loss of electricity, which was when they started praying for their friends and family's safety in the city. The following day, Faria’s husband received news that his daughter was a victim of the flood while she was riding the local bus.
“I had the feeling to just leave the city after it all because I was so scared, but at the same time I love this city and it’s my home,” Faria said.
The comparison of the rainfall in Palm Beach County versus Petrópolis was extremely different. In only a year, Palm Beach County only received 10.9 inches of rain, according to the South Florida Water Management District, which is equal to a month’s worth in Petrópolis.
The Migration Policy Institute estimates that 800,000 Brazilian citizens lived in Florida in 2017. Although the feeling of wanting to leave a natural disaster may overwhelm one, residents in South Florida experience different complexities.
Vanir Macedo, owner of Aladim Lustres in Petrópolis, has lived in the city since the day he was born about 75 years ago. He explained that the amount of rain that came had never happened in all of his life there.
The rain flooded the whole first floor of Aladim Lustres while the employees tried their best to save what was possible.
“I couldn’t believe what I saw when I received all the messages about the flood,” said Macedo.
Nearly 200 people were victimized by the flood, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and most of the city's historic landmarks are no longer what they used to be. Something that remained the same was the community throughout the city.
“Once it began to get dark out, I noticed that the water was slowly going down but not enough,” Faria said. “I started seeing a mass of people that were stuck in buses on the hill trying to come down. So, I told my daughter to grab candles and flashlights to try and illuminate the streets for anyone we could.”
For Macedo, almost all of his products were lost during the rainfall until his lucky charm was found days after.
“I had this Aladdin genie lamp that I bought from my trip to New York City almost 10 years ago,” Macedo said. “I had this lamp sitting on the cashier counter thinking that it was most definitely gone after the flood. After cleaning just two days after, one of my employees found my lucky genie lamp.”
Just two months after the mudslide the community of Petrópolis has stood together to bring back their precious city.
By Maria Teixeira