Jan 10 (AFP) – At least seven people died after a huge slab of rock broke from a cliff and fell on tourist boats in a Brazilian lake.
At least 32 people were left injured after a tower of rocks came crashing down on two leisure boats, causing a huge wave over the Furnas lake at Capitolio, in Minas Gerais state, on Saturday.
Edgard Estevo, commander of the Minas Gerais State Fire Department, said three people are still missing.
Footage posted on social media shows tourists shouting in fear as the huge rock smashes into two boats as it falls into the water.
Two boats were hit directly by the rocks and 24 people rescued from them alive, fire department spokesman Pedro Aihara said. Seven bodies have been recovered.
The people hurt in the accident had broken bones and one was in serious condition in hospital with head and facial injuries, authorities said. Some 23 others were treated for light injuries.
Furnas Lake, known as the “sea of Minas”, is a popular tourist attraction in the area round 418km (260 miles) north of Sao Paulo.
Heavy rain has fallen on Minas Gerais over the past two weeks, which state officials believe may have loosened the rock.
Pedro Aihara, a spokesperson for the Minas Gerais State Fire Department, told Brazilian broadcaster GloboNews that the rocks in this area are “more susceptible to the effects of wind and rain” and “show less resistance”.
Mr Estevo said the accident occurred between the towns of Sao Jose da Barra and Capitolio, from which the boats had launched earlier that day.
The governor of Minas Gerais, Romeu Zema, has reportedly sent messages of solidarity with the victims on social media.
The Brazilian navy has confirmed it will investigate the cause of the accident.
The Brazilian navy was aiding the rescue and said it would investigate the accident. Video from the scene showed several small boats in a lake when a massive slab of rock tears away from the face of the cliff and slams onto at least one of the boats.
Heavy rains in recent weeks have overwhelmed the region, driving more than 17,000 people from their homes. Just two days ago, the Brazilian government issued a statement expressing gratitude to the U.S. Agency for International Development for providing funds for cleaning, hygiene and kitchen kits for those displaced by the flooding in the neighboring state of Bahia.
The head of the Applied Geology Division of the Brazilian Geological Service, Tiago Antonelli, said the cliff wall is subject to centuries of erosion and susceptible to rain, heat and cold.
“It’s normal to happen in many canyons, even with rocks of that size,” Antonelli said. “But nowadays, with the intensification of tourism, people are starting to get closer to these places and to register these phenomena with their cell phones.”
Capitolio is about 180 miles west of the state capital of Belo Horizonte, a city of 2.7 million people.
Furnas Lake was created in 1958 as part of a hydroelectric plant. It’s a popular tourist area, and Capitolio, which has about 8,400 residents, can draw 5,000 visitors on a normal weekend and up to 30,000 on holidays.