Collapse(s) in Rio. A sad tradition

This week 3 buildings collapsed in the heart of Rio de Janeiro. So far, 4 people died. 14 are missing. The tragedy could be much worse if it had not happened at 20:40 in the evening.

But I can’t help thinking that the real tragedy might rest in the frequency that this kind of accidents occur. We need to look beyond the emotion of the moment and search for the causes that turn this events into routine. It is not normal to see a building collapsing every decade. Is it?

The events

Laranjeiras * (1967) on February 21, a storm caused a landslide on a slope at the time of Rua General Glicerio in Laranjeiras (South Zone) hitting a house and two apartment buildings. About 120 people died on the spot.

Viaduct Paulo de Frontin (1971): a stretch of the viaduct under construction fell on November 20th. In total, 28 people were killed and 30 others injured.

Ideal Supermarket (1972): on Dec. 20, the fall from the roof of a supermarket in Pillars (North Zone) killed 14 people and about 100 wounded.

Abolition (1988): following the rains that have devastated the river in February, a building collapsed in Tan Oak Street in the neighborhood of Abolition (North Zone), leaving 13 dead.

Barra (1998):  A building called “Palace 2” fell at 3 pm on February 22, 1998.  8 people died as a result of the incident.

Morro do Bumba, Niteroi (2010) I could not find the number of dead. This favela from Niteroi collapsed under heavy rain in April 2010. Some newspapers say 100 plus .. 100 missing. (Technically, Niteroi is another municipality but it belongs to the metropolitan region of Rio)

Sources:, Wikepedia, Estadao.

Published by Hildete Vodopives

Hildete de Moraes Vodopives is founder of Brazil Global and of the Harvard Strategists Group. She has a PhD in Economic History and advises companies and investment agencies in international business development.She served as Corporate Relations Director and later, on the board of the Brazilian Investment Analysts Association (APIMEC).

8 thoughts on “Collapse(s) in Rio. A sad tradition

  1. This is the dilemna Brazil faces as it has shifted from a developing country to a developed country –its infrastructure needs to be strengthened, yet the frequency of the evidence of what exists will not last very long is not very comforting. In older developed countries, most structures exist a minimum of 40 years, and many have lasted more than a century, in sound condition.

    In the process of strengthening its infrastructure, will the same mistakes, the same standards, same specifications be used? Is there a thorough cause and effect study being done to improve safety and minimize risk? With the corruption level in Brazil, how much of the cause of theses collapses can be followed to those with their hands out (just follow the money, even if the path is very complex)? Would be interesting to see if there is a correlation between countries with a ligh level of corruption and failed infrastructures such as these — and countries where corruption is low and infrastructures are sound. The logic is there, but is the data there to prove it?

    At the global level, Brazil certainly has a bright future… unfortunately Brazil has an enemy within, and it is themselves. What is tolerated, cannot be changed. And to change anything, the beliefs of most will have to be challenged and overcome. This is not an impossible task — it may take a few years, but keeping the message loud and clear repetitively will win them over.

    But the biggest effect — and losers — in this situation isn’t the government. It is the people — any sovereignty will only move forward when the people decide enough is enough and move forward through all this, and not around it.


  2. Dear Hildete,

    You always write great posts and I enjoy reading them.
    After reading about this horrible tragedy I have to agree with you this is a sad tradition in Brazil. However I would like to point out that your comparisons feel like comparing Apples and Oranges, because some of the tragedies mentioned above were caused by climate conditions, and some by complete lack of following rules of engineering.
    Unfortunately, such tragedies are seen in the US and Europe as well, but in Brazil they gain special status and disproportionate media coverage.
    Just to mention a few tragedies in other countries also caused by irresponsible behavior, and lack of maintenance: huge fire at London’s subway station that killed many people in the 90’s, recent bridge collapse in Minneapolis, cranes fall out of the sky in New York city all the time, gas explosion in California recently destroyed many homes and killed many people, gas explosion in Philadelphia last year, Cincinnati Casino floor collapse a couple of days ago sent 12 workers to the Hospital in critical condition.
    Unfortunately, the sad tradition of tragedies due to irresponsible behavior is not exclusive or more common in Brazil, but it happens everywhere.

    Great post!




    1. Jay — The differences of the apples and oranges you provide – cranes falling from the sky all the time in NYC? The people of NYC will take you to task on this one, especially this one. A few incidents do not constitute all the time in any situation.
      Faulty engineering resulting from lowest bid awards systems or an aging infrastructure is a far cry from faulty engineering resulting from illegal payoffs.

      Climate will always play a factor in engineering — in any country. With the rains of Brazil coming heaviest in December to February, and the frequency of the structural failures happening in the same time frame is not overlooked by the so-called disproportionate media. I am quite sure if a detailed listing were provided then the rainy season would have the highest level of structural failures.

      The disproportion coverage is a myth — no one news media has a vendetta to constantly give Brazil a black eye. Should they allow it to escape their attention that every year they can expect more structural failures out of Brazil than any other country? Brazil is not the only country in South America and there aren’t as many structural failures elsewhere with such frequency. This is not due to Brazil’s leading growth either — it is more from a government that has practiced omission too long while allowing too many members of their government fatten their lifestyle at the cost of their citizens lives.


  3. Hi Ray, thanks for pointing out the ‘apples and oranges”. What they have in common? Behind all of them there is a public officer who did not do his/her job. The favelas for example. It is the rain that washes down the houses but why are they on a hill in the first place? Because the municipality allowed it… it is like letting a small child play with fire. It is the fire who makes the dammage but the responsibility lyes with the parent.


  4. Hildete,

    I totally agree with you regarding the favelas. They should all be removed from the hills of Rio and the mountains should have it’s forests recovered if you ask me. These people should be placed in decent and safe areas.



  5. Dear Garrett,

    With all the respect, I wasn’t attacking New York city, so I don’t think there is a point in defending it.

    My point is, the cranes falling out of the sky in New York city did happened because “city inspectors” were paid off to look the other way and allow construction companies to take short cuts, plain and simple, not faulty engineering, but sordid corruption of the worst 3rd world kind is alive and well all over the US. Don’t even get me started with New York city’s corruption, mafia and contructiong companies…we could write a book.

    And yes, Brazil gets a black eye for anything and everything, all the time, pricipally now under teh scrutiny brought on by the World Cup and the Olympics.
    I don’t think there is a conspiracy against Brazil but after living in the US for 15 years I have learned that Americans in general have a tendency to “Hide their dirt under the rug”, and they do it often. Meanwhile, Brazilians are dramatic by nature and have a tendency ” to throw the dirt in front of the fan” and make the problems look ten times worse. Please not that I don’t really blame foreigners for giving the Brazilian image a black eye, but Brazilians are the first ones to do that with “gusto” and enthusiasm.
    I completely disagree with you that these”accidents” happen more often in Brazil, that is an absurd assuption, please google on the subject.

    I would agree that accidents in Brazil are shown ten times more often in the media. Accidents of this kind happen in the US as often if not more often than they happen in Brazil, I could write you a long list of recent examples, but this is what we all have google for… 😉



  6. Interesting, but nothing shared is substantiated… As both Hildete and I have already noted, behind all of the acceidents there is a public officer who did not do his/her job — a point many seem to dance around but never agree to.

    Google has already proven to have a bias to it, so it is only one of several tools that should be in use for any research and/or statistical work. The work of several global foundations is where such research should be performed (such as the Pew Foundation). My money stays on my comments and Hildete’s — when there are numbers to be seen and the source documents substantiated, then there is something to crow about…


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