The condemned four-story buildings collapsed Friday in the hillside neighborhood of Itanhanga, an area that was hard hit by recent heavy rains and flash floods. Civil defense workers, firefighters, trained dogs and drones were searching around-the-clock for survivors in the rubble.
Luciano Sarmento of Rio's fire department said Saturday he hoped survivors would be found because "air pockets may have been formed allowing people to breathe." Buildings next to those that fell were evacuated for fear of new collapses. Residents were allowed into their homes for a few minutes to retrieve personal belongings.
According to Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella the area was run by militias that control large swaths of Rio, including the area where the buildings stood. Militias, which are made up of former firefighters, police and soldiers, charge residents for basic services in areas they control.
When they began forming decades ago, many saw them as a force for good because they provided security that the state could not. Today, however, such groups are full-fledged criminal organizations which are often considered the most severe security threat in Rio.