Rio rain, floods and landslides.

The popular image of Rio (particularly abroad) is of sun, beaches, people relaxing and having a nice time. All those things (and much more) do happen in Rio, but visitors are sometimes surprised (and disappointed) by something else. The rain.

Some friends of mine once came to Rio for 10 days. It rained every single day. I remember seeing them just after they’d been to see the Cristo Redentor. I asked them how the view had been (the iconic statute is the highest point in Rio and on clear days the views of the city are breathtaking). “We could just see his head” they told me.

As well as putting a dampener in people’s holidays and leisure time, the rain here has a more serious side. The sheer intensity of the downpours can be incredible.


Rain in Rio

This was the view from my window last night – some of the heaviest rain I’ve seen anywhere. After 10 minutes of this, the entire road (which is on a very steep hill) had turned into a river. It rained like this for over an hour.


Here is some footage I took last night – it’s not great quality, but hopefully it gives you an idea of how full-on the rainfall was:



Lucky for me the roads and buildings in my neighbourhood are fairly well maintained.

Santa Teresa

The force of the rain last night was enough to dislodge these heavy paralelepipedos (cobbles) near my home, but luckily nothing more serious happened in the neighbourhood.


When rainfall this intense and sustained is combined with Rio’s steep hills and the poor planning and construction in the poorer neighbourhoods, the consequences can be disastrous. Last night in Niterói a 13 year old girl died and her two siblings were injured when a landslide caused a wall to collapse. The details seem a bit sketchy, but it seems she was protecting her siblings at the time.

This is by no means an isolated incident. Just two weeks ago, flooding killed 2 and displaced 3,000 families in an area just north of the city of Rio. And back in 2010 there were multiple flooding and landslide events that caused hundreds of deaths across the state. Then in 2011, floods and mudslides in the Serra region caused at least 900 deaths.

There have been complaints that money set aside for rebuilding and flood/landslide protection has not been spent and from what I’ve read, these complaints are legitimate. Today I hear that the mayor of Niterói is promising an alert system with warning sirens.

Rio flooding

Flooding in Jacarezinho after last night’s rain. Source


I think these extreme weather events are a huge challenge and would be a huge challenge for any country. But the regularity of these disasters and the promises of action that come afterwards must surely be testing the patience of the residents of these danger areas. As one commentator put it, the promises of action are as regular as the annual rains, yet when the rains falls, the promises, like so many buildings, collapse.



7 replies
  1. Phil
    Phil says:

    Your photos and video give new meaning to the word “torrential.” I will keep it in mind the next time I’m inclined to use that word to describe one of our relatively tame Michigan downpours. I’m near a river, so we get flooding sometimes, but usually due to hours and hours of less intense rainfall, certainly nothing strong enough to kill anyone or dislodge pavers.

    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Hey Phil! Glad the intensity came across in the video/pics – heavy rain in Rio isn’t unusual, but that night was something else. When you’re warm and safe, there’s something rather satisfying about a big rain storm – cleaning the crud off the streets and clearing the air – but after the last few years I can’t help but worry about the people out there sleeping on the streets or in the vulnerable areas… I hope someone starts delivering on all those promises soon.

  2. Eleanor
    Eleanor says:

    The term “raining stair-rods” came to mind. when I saw your photos. When we were young the stair carpet was held in place by long metal rods – don’t expect you’ve ever seen them … but the rain looks amazing!

    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Hi Eleanor! I have seen stair rods – you still get them in stately homes and museums don’t you? 😉 I hadn’t heard that term though. It certainly makes more sense than “cats and dogs”!

  3. The Gritty Poet
    The Gritty Poet says:

    An excerpt from one of your links:

    “É uma dor muito grande perder minha netinha. Ela falou: ‘vovô, eu arrumei um emprego, vou cuidar de duas crianças para ganhar R$ 150’. Eu disse a ela que era muito pouco, para ela não ir. Mas ela disse que a vida estava difícil. As crianças caíram em um buraco e ela se jogou por cima delas para protegê-las quando o concreto caiu. Ela era uma criança muito querida na família, muito boa”, disse o avô emocionado.

    A avó da menina, Maria Luzia Gonçalves Ribeiro, disse que alertou sobre o perigo de o muro desabar. “A gente avisou sobre o muro na associação de moradores para avisarem à prefeitura. Mas ninguém fez nada. Como sempre, esperam acontecer alguma coisa para tomar providência”, disse a avó de Júlia.”

    Dear jesus.

  4. Anna
    Anna says:

    Oi, Tom!
    Recebi seu e-mail e já respondi.
    Será um prazer participar de alguma forma do seu blog.
    Obrigada pelo contato.


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