Heatwave roasts Rio, kills 32 in southern Brazil

Posted at 02/11/10 7:11 AM

RIO DE JANEIRO – The worst heatwave to hit Rio de Janeiro in 50 years turned the city into a pre-Carnival furnace Wednesday, and killed 32 elderly people further south, officials said.

According to the Inmet national weather service, recorded temperatures in Rio were well above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees) -- and felt more like above 50 degrees.

"The heatwave in Rio is seen as historic. February right now is the hottest month for the past 50 years," meteorologist Giovanni Dolif told the O Globo daily.

On Monday and Tuesday, the scalding conditions proved deadly for 32 elderly residents in Santos, a city close to Sao Paulo and 350 kilometers (220 miles) south of Rio.

Half of them succumbed in their homes and the other half died as they sought help in clinics, a spokeswoman for the city's health service told AFP.

The heatwave made Rio the hottest place on the planet on Tuesday, save for Ada, a town in eastern Ghana, according to data from the World Meteorological Organization.

Rio's recorded temperature that day was 46.3 degrees Celsius -- less than even the Sahara desert, which came in at a milder 33 degrees.

Dolif said being in Rio was worse than being in a dry desert because seaside humidity gave the temperature a suffocating boost, making it feel much higher.

El Nino, the phenomenon in which unusually hot Pacific Ocean waters disrupt weather patterns, was blamed for the heatwave by preventing the formation of clouds.

Rio's heatwave was forecast to continue into the weekend, when the city's famous four-day Carnival starts.

Sapped residents in the city have taken to going to the beaches at night to seek a respite from the heat.

Doctors were recommending cold showers and lots of liquids to mitigate the risks of heat exhaustion and dehydration.