BRASILIA, Brazil – At least six people died when a towering slab of rock broke from a cliff and fell on boaters floating near a waterfall on a Brazilian lake on Saturday, officials said.
Edgard Estevo, commander of the Minas Gerais state fire department, said at a news conference that up to 20 people could be missing in addition to the dead and officials were trying to identify them.
Officials said at least 32 people were injured, but most had been released from hospitals by Saturday night.
Video images showed a cluster of small boats slowly moving near the sheer cliff at Furnas Lake when a crack appeared in the rock and a huge chunk fell on at least two of the ships.
Estevo said the accident occurred between the cities of Sao Jose da Barra and Capitolio, from which the boats had departed.
The Minas Gerais state press office told The Associated Press that the fire department had used divers and helicopters to help. Minas Gerais Governor Romeu Zema sent solidarity messages with the victims on social media.
Lake Furnas, which was created in 1958 for the installation of a hydropower plant, is a popular tourist attraction in the area, about 400 km north of Sao Paulo. Officials at Capitolio, which has a population of about 8,400, say the city can see about 5,000 visitors in a weekend and up to 30,000 on holidays.
Officials suggested that the detachment of the wall could be linked to heavy rainfall, which recently caused flooding in the state and forced nearly 17,000 people out of their homes.
Early last year, the lack of rain was a concern as Brazil experienced the worst drought in 91 years, forcing officials to warn the water flow from the Furnas Lake Dam.
The Brazilian Navy, which also helped with the rescue, said it would investigate the causes of the accident.
Even in the dry season, the movement in some parts of the lake is so intense that the boats have to take turns to navigate the lake, said the town hall’s press office.