The cliff that collapsed and killed at least ten people at a popular tourist spot in southeast Brazil has been on the verge of collapse for at least a decade, it emerged today.
A boating expert, who had been sailing those waters in 2012, posted a photo at the time showing a huge crack on the rock face of the canyon that has now collapsed with the caption ‘this rock is going to fall down’.
It comes as police confirmed that the death toll has risen to 10 after the rockface fell on top of two boats on Saturday near a picturesque waterfall and revealed that all the victims had been on board the same vessel, named Jesus.
Authorities have been working to identify the dead and divers were searching the Furnas Lake near the popular tourist village of Capitolio, in the southeast of Brazil, on Sunday in case there were more victims, as grieving relatives gathered to bury their loved ones.
Flavio Freitas, a doctor from Sao Paulo and avid sailor, said it has been ‘very clear’ that the accident would happen.
Freitas had spotted the danger in March 2012 and posted an image at the time showing a visible crack running along the area of the canyon that collapsed on Saturday.
The image has since gone viral and Freitas today said: ‘When I saw the footage of the accident, I immediately recognised the spot.
‘It’s a very well-known tourist area. I remembered I had taken this photograph, so I went back to my album on Facebook.
‘At the time I made the comment that this rock would fall. But it’s not a premonition or anything like that.
‘The crack was very large, the distance of the outcrop from the wall was very noticeable and it was evident there was a chance it would come down. I’m no geologist, but it was obvious to me.’
Flavio Freitas, a boating expert who had been sailing those waters in 2012, posted a photo at the time showing a huge crack on the rock face of the canyon that has now collapsed with the caption ‘this rock is going to fall down’
Shocking video captured the moment the cliffside fell on two tourist boats on Saturday, killing at least ten people
Relatives of a victim wait outside the Legal Medicine Institute of Passos, Minas Gerais State, Brazil, on Sunday
Freitas said he believed this this year the outcrop would have been even more unstable because the water level appeared to be lower, exposing more unsupported rockface.
Dramatic footage captured the moment a huge slice of the rock wall broke off from the canyon on Furnas Lake and began to slowly fall forward on top of two tourist boats.
Passengers can be heard screaming as the cliffside crashed directly on one of the boats, engulfing the other nearby ship and sending waves and debris flying to the other vessels touring the area.
Rescuers recovered three more bodies from the lake on Sunday, raising the death toll to 10 in the disaster that injured more than 32 tourists.
Police Chief Marcos Pimenta said there was a possibility that some people were missing following the accident.
The bodies were taken to Passos city, where coroners worked to identify them. The work was difficult because of the ‘high energy impact’ of the rock on the boaters, said a regional civil police official, Marcos Pimenta. He said one victim had been identified as 68-year-old Julio Borges Antunes.
A survivor of the cliff collapse told how she saw some pebbles start to fall from the top of the canyon moments before the rockface fell.
Andréia Mendonça recalled how holidaymakers were taking pictures at the waterfalls in southeast Brazil when part of the canyon collapsed.
Mendonça had even told the driver of their boat that she could see some pebbles falling, but he said it ‘was nothing’.
Mendonça, who watched on in horror from her speedboat, told Globo: ‘We stopped, took pictures and it was time for everyone to take their place and start to leave.
‘I looked up at the rock and some pebbles were falling. I even made a comment to the boat’s pilot and he said it was nothing, but just a few pebbles.’
Mendonça continued: ‘When I looked again, that huge rock was already falling, that huge piece of rock. I looked at the many boats below and a horrible scene.
‘The pilot left as fast as he could get us out of there. Very sad, I never imaged we would witness such a scene.’
Andréia Mendonça (left), a survivor of the Brazilian cliff collapse, has told how she saw some pebbles start to fall from the top of the canyon moments before the rockface fell on top of two boats carrying tourists at a popular sightseeing spot (right)
The crash engulfed the two tourist ships and sent debris flying to the other nearby boats
Relatives of a victim wait outside the Legal Medicine Institute of Passos, Minas Gerais State, Brazil, on Sunday, a day after part of a cliff collapsed and killed at least ten people
Authorities said at least 32 people have been taken to hospital and nine are still recovering from serious injuries in hospital.
The people hospitalized in the accident had broken bones and one was in serious condition in hospital with head and facial injuries.
Video from other boats revealed that that the tourist ships had been worried about the cliffside and were urging the other boats to get away moments before the tragedy.
The passengers could be heard screaming out to the others to move away, with their pleas growing as rocks began chipping and falling away from the cliffside.
Rovilson Teixeira, an experienced boat operator, told the local press he expects more victims to be found. He added that he had never seen anything like this before in the area.
‘We are all stunned, nobody knows how many victims, but I can already say that it wasn’t just one or two deaths, but many deaths. There are a lot of injured people.
‘The place is full of ambulances from all over the region that came to deal with the victims, but nobody can yet process the scale of this tragedy.’
The fire department of Minas Gerais state has deployed divers and helicopters to help find the victims of the tragedy.
Edgard Estevo, commander of the Minas Gerais State Fire Department, said the accident occurred between the towns of Sao Jose da Barra and Capitolio, from which the boats had left.
The collapse took place near a picturesque waterfall in a canyon located near the popular tourist village of Capitolio, in the southeast of Brazil, on Saturday
Firefighters from the Minas Gerais Fire Department carry out a rescue operation after a wall of rock broke from a cliff falling onto several tourist boats
The tourists boats were heard warning each other about the dangers at the cliff as rocks began falling off. Two ships were still close to the cliffside when it came down
The collapse took place near a picturesque waterfall as tourist boats made their way through
The families of the victims embrace on Sunday as they wait to hear for more information from authorities
The collapse, described as ‘like a domino’, is thought to have been caused by excessive rain. Authorities had warned locals earlier that day to avoid waterfalls in the area, which may have been vulnerable to large volumes of water.
The region has been under heavy rainfall for two weeks, which officials suggest could have loosened the rock face. On Saturday, a dike overflowed at an iron ore mine about 180 miles to the east, cutting off a major federal highway.
Lieutenant Pedro Aihara, spokesperson for the local fire department, said rock collapses in the region are normal – but not on this scale or trajectory.
‘Normally the piece of rock slides down from where it is,’ he told news portal UOL. ‘This time, the structure fell down like a domino and what hit people was the upper part, in a perpendicular trajectory.’
According to local reports, of the victims still in hospital two have exposed fractures, four have light injuries and three are in a grave condition.
Furnas Lake, which was created in 1958 for the installation of a hydroelectric plant, is a popular tourist draw in the area roughly 260 miles north of Sao Paulo. Officials in Capitolio, which has about 8,400 residents, say the town can see around 5,000 visitors on a weekend, and up to 30,000 on holidays.
Earlier last year, the concern was a lack of rain as Brazil experienced the worst drought in 91 years, which forced officials to divert the water flow from the Furnas Lake dam.
The Brazilian navy, which also helped in the rescue, said it would investigate the causes of the accident.
Minas Gerais Fire Department helped out with the rescue effort on Saturday
Even in the dry season, in some parts of the lake the movement is so intense that the boats have to take turns to navigate on the lake, said the City Hall press office.
Minas Gerais state Governor Romeu Zema tweeted on Saturday: ‘Today we are suffering the pain of a tragedy in our state, due to heavy rains, which caused the loosening of a wall of stones in Lake Furnas, in Capitólio.
‘The Government of Minas is present from the beginning through the Civil Defense and Fire Department.
‘Rescue work is still ongoing.
‘I stand in solidarity with families at this difficult time. We will continue to act to provide the necessary support.’
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. 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,’ Antonelli said.
Joana Fontez, geology professor at the Federal University of Goias, said there authorities should have been controlling the site to prevent accidents, especially in the rainy season. The boats should have been kept at least one kilometer (0.6 miles) away from the waterfall where the accident happened, she said.