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.
Andréia Mendonça recalled how holidaymakers were taking pictures at the waterfalls in southeast Brazil when part of the canyon collapsed, killing at least seven people and seriously injuring nine.
Mendonça had even told the driver of their boat that she could see some pebbles falling, but he said it ‘was nothing’.
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.
Authorities said three people were still missing after 20 others feared lost were located by telephone.
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.’
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.
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)
Shocking video captured the moment the cliffside fell on two tourist boats
The crash engulfed the two tourist ships and sent debris flying to the other nearby boats
Authorities said at least 32 people have been taken to hospital and nine are still recovering from serious injuries.
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.
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 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.’