My heart aches to see what is happening in the region of Rio de Janeiro known as the Serra Fluminense. I have visited the three cities most severely impacted, Petrópolis, Teresópolis and Nova Friburgo and note that these are relatively prosperous locations and major tourism destinations. They are popular refuges from the summer heat in Rio de Janeiro. Petrópolis was the summer location for the Emperor Dom Pedro II and his former residence is now Brazil's most visited museum. Teresópolis, in addition to its scenic charms is also the location for the Brazilian Football Federation's national training center, Granja Comary and adjacent to a lovely national park with scenic mountain views, Serra dos Órgãos. Nova Friburgo has some of the best preserved portions of the Atlantic Forest in the region.
I believe that this article is largely correct:
For much of its history, Brazil has been blessed like almost no other country of its size to be almost free of such calamities. Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, erupting volcanoes — none have proved threats to Brazil.
Until recently, the most costly and best-known disasters were severe droughts, said Margareta Wahlstrom, the assistant secretary general for the United Nations’ International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.
“But in the last few years the increasing frequency of floods, high winds and storms has become part of the new normal of Brazil,” she said. “The political choice we have today is to not treat disasters as events that come and go, but decide that you plan for them and realize that they are very costly.”
I can tell you from my experience that rain tends to be very heavy in Brazil this time of year and floods are all too common. I can also tell you that there appears to be little if any effort being made to prepare for the next one, a fact underscored by this from the same article:
The hillside areas around Rio lacked early warning systems or effective community organizations that might have helped residents to wake one another as the rains intensified last Tuesday night, disaster experts and residents said. Most people are believed to have died early Wednesday morning as they slept, when water-loosened earth swept their houses away.
The floods are going to happen. Better preparation for such disasters as well as strictly enforced building codes (these weren't favelas this time) to prevent building in locations prone to mudslides will only help.