Monday, May 11, 2009


I wanted to write about the rain. It hasn't rained today, for the first time in about two weeks, but it's supposed to rain again tomorrow and the hell will begin all over again. My fellow bloggers are all writing about it, here and here and here.

My most dramatic introduction to tropical rain was when I was backpacking in Thailand- one time I was standing by the side of the road, waiting for something that I can no longer remember, in the full sun. Suddenly, to my complete astonishment, I saw rain coming up the street. There was a clear line dividing the dry asphalt from the wet asphalt. And it was raining hard on the other side of that line.

Since that time, I've always been fascinated by tropical rain, how it can vary in intensity from one cloud to another, how it can vary in intensity from light drizzle to a torrential downpour in seconds, and how an inch of rain can sometimes fall in ten minutes. Growing up in New England, our rain usually stayed at about the same speed for a whole day, or even several days. On the flip side of that here in Brazil, even when it's really rainy it rarely rains steadily for several days at a time. Often it's a couple hours of rain, then some sun, then some clouds, then more rain, etc.

These last two weeks did not fit that pattern.

It rained an insane amount, for many days. Essentially without a pause. Certainly without any sun. My guess is that it rained a couple feet over that time. Most of us think of the word 'awesome' as stoner/surfer slang for 'really great,' but the dictionary definition includes the words 'apprehension' and 'fear' and that's the kind of awesome that this rain was.

I was somewhat traumatized by this kind of rainfall soon after we moved into the house. During Carnaval, we experienced a torrential downpour (a couple weeks after a wind storm tore part of our roof off, but luckily it didn't rain that time) and the downspout on our gutter got clogged with bits of masonry. Since our stoopid gutter is inside the house, this caused water to pour out in great quantities into our bedroom. And down the walls. And into the living room. I freaked out. Ever since then, when I hear the hard drumming of heavy rain, I get tense.

Luckily nothing like that happened to us this time, in fact very little rain has gotten into our house this year. My car, however, is another story. It's not entirely waterproof, and I made the mistake of parking it under a downspout in front of our house, where it got pounded by a small waterfall for several days. The other day we all climbed into it and everything was covered with mold. The steering wheel. Lucas' car seat. Everything. When it rains this hard nothing gets a chance to dry out, so... mold.

But this is mild compared to what has gone down here in Salvador, and elsewhere in Brazil, during this rain. When you get this much rain it alters the ground it falls on, and soaks into, and runs off of. Dirt hills can turn to jelly and collapse, taking houses and everything else with them. One of Evani's cousins fled her house because a big crack appeared in the middle of it. A phone pole went down right by her home, the ground eaten away around it. Some of Evani's neighbors, including people I know, appeared on the evening news because their houses were flooded- they lost everything.

I asked Evani about these neighbors, if their houses had ever flooded before. They all live next to a nasty little sewer/stream that receives a huge amount of runoff. What she said disgusted me.

I got all excited a few months ago because Embasa, the local water utility, went into her neighborhood and installed sewer lines for everybody. Finally! I thought, city sewers have made it to the favelas. I was even going to write a blog post about it. But of course I didn't ask the most important question, which is where is all the sewage going? Answer: into the aforementioned sewer/stream. Which is where most of these folks were running their sewage anyways. Apparently Embasa added a lot more people's sewage and runoff to the stream, because it had never flooded before.

Now that's just nasty.

And if it's going into the stream, you know where it's ending up. Not that you have to search very hard to find black 'rivers' running into the ocean here in Salvador. Evani doesn't let any of us go swimming during the winter. Smart lady.

But even getting your house flooded isn't the worst that can happen, although it's happened to thousands across Brazil. People die too. Several died in a collapsed building, one that actually looked pretty nice, or produced nice looking rubble, when I saw it on the news. Usually the victims of that kind of thing are favela dwellers. I saw another report on the news showing a mud hillside where large notches had been carved out to build houses in. You think I get scared when it starts to rain? These people get terrified. And if they're smart, and they have the option, they flee. Like Evani's cousin. Not all of them have the option.

There's so much rain here that here in the largo many of the manhole covers, and other service-related steel hatches in the ground, get the dirt supporting them eaten away from below and the bricks or paving stones collapse with nothing to support them. This is nerve wracking, especially as I try to navigate my young son around them. Part of the problem is probably poor engineering and/or construction, but these guys have a lot of water to deal with so I'm somewhat sympathetic. Here in our largo this happens on a small if frequent scale, but where there is a lot of runoff these can become huge, potentially car-swallowing holes. It was apparently into one of these that a woman fell with her little girl last week. I think she was actually walking on what had been a sidewalk, or a road, and had become an overhang with all the dirt eroded away beneath it. It collapsed, and they got sucked into some raging runoff. They found their bodies miles away and days later.

And the forecast is calling for more rain tomorrow.


AkuTyger said...

One of my doormen knew that woman. His son tried to help her get out of the hole, but she wanted to find her daughter and so she went back under.

markuza said...

That's terrible. I hadn't heard that part of the story. I thought they'd both been sucked under at the same time. I suppose I would have done the same thing in her situation.