Lessons learned from a landslide catastrophe in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


  • Bruno Monteiro Tavares Pereira, MD, MSc
  • Wellington Morales, MD
  • Ricardo Galesso Cardoso, MD
  • Rossano Fiorelli, MD, PhD
  • Gustavo Pereira Fraga, MD, PhD
  • Susan M. Briggs, MD, MPH




landslide, disaster medicine, mudslide


Introduction: On January, 2011, a devastating tropical storm hit the mountain area of Rio de Janeiro State in Brazil, resulting in flooding and mudslides and leaving 30,000 individuals displaced.
Objective: This article explores key lessons learned from this major mass casualty event, highlighting prehospital and hospital organization for receiving multiple victims in a short period of time, which may be applicable in similar future events worldwide.
Methods: A retrospective review of local hospital medical/fire department records and data from the Health and Security Department of the State were analyzed. Medical examiner archives were analyzed to determine the causes of death.
Results: The most common injuries were to the extremities, the majority requiring only wound cleaning, debridement, and suture. Orthopedic surgeries were the most common operative procedures. In the first 3 days, 191 victims underwent triage at the hospital with 50 requiring admission to the hospital. Two hundred fifty patients were triaged at the hospital by the end of the fifth day.The mortis cause for the majority of deaths was asphyxia, either by drowning or mud burial.
Conclusion: Natural disasters are able to generate a large number of victims and overwhelm the main channels of relief available. Main lessons learned are as follows: 1) prevention and training are key points, 2) key measures by the authorities should be taken as early as possible, and 3) the centralization of the deceased in one location demonstrated greater effectiveness identifying victims and releasing the bodies back to families.

Author Biographies

Bruno Monteiro Tavares Pereira, MD, MSc

Assistant Professor, Division of Trauma Surgery, Department of Surgery, School of Medical Sciences, University of Campinas, SP, Brazil.

Wellington Morales, MD

Associate Professor, Department of Surgery, Teresópolis School of Medicine, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Chief, Clinics Hospital of Teresópolis Emergency Department, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Surgical Activities Coordinator of the Health and Security Rio de Janeiro’s State Department, RJ, Brazil.

Ricardo Galesso Cardoso, MD

G.R.A.U. Flight Doctor (HEMS), SP, Brazil.

Rossano Fiorelli, MD, PhD

Faculty of the Department of Surgery, School of Medical Sciences, University of Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil.

Gustavo Pereira Fraga, MD, PhD

Chief, Professor of Surgery, Division of Trauma Surgery, Department of Surgery, School of Medical Sciences, University of Campinas, SP, Brazil.

Susan M. Briggs, MD, MPH

Associate Professor of Surgery, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.


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How to Cite

Pereira, MD, MSc, B. M. T., W. Morales, MD, R. G. Cardoso, MD, R. Fiorelli, MD, PhD, G. P. Fraga, MD, PhD, and S. M. Briggs, MD, MPH. “Lessons Learned from a Landslide Catastrophe in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil”. American Journal of Disaster Medicine, vol. 8, no. 4, Sept. 2013, pp. 253-8, doi:10.5055/ajdm.2013.0131.




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