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Safety fears for World Cup, Olympics
Infrastructure neglect blamed for blasts, building collapses, trolley deaths in host city
Question of the Day
RIO DE JANEIRO — Enormous buildings suddenly collapse in this Olympic city’s center, killing 17.
A manhole explodes near Copacabana Beach, severely burning a pair of American tourists. Another explosion rips through a downtown restaurant, blasting the bodies of three workers clear across the street.
A trolley car that’s a favorite attraction for visitors runs off its rails, killing five and injuring dozens. A French tourist falls to his death while riding the same line because of a hole in a security fence along the track’s edge.
These accidents during the past year haven’t just highlighted everyday dangers for Rio de Janeiro’s 6 million residents. They are contributing to a growing concern about the city’s readiness to host the finals of the 2014 World Cup as well as the 2016 Olympics.
Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes argues that last month’s unexplained building collapse and other infrastructure woes are not directly related to preparations for the World Cup or the Olympics because none of the accidents occurred at the sites planned for either event.
But critics say the repeated deadly accidents in the heart of the city point to larger problems: decades of neglect and almost nonexistent urban planning, lax oversight and institutionalized corruption that could spell disaster at the World Cup or Olympics.
With its sprawling sandy beaches, palm-tree-lined streets and rocky outcroppings covered with lush tropical vegetation, Rio is a gorgeous city. But scratch the surface, and it soon becomes apparent that the decay here runs deep and extends far beyond the infamous hillside slums, or “favelas.”
Aging natural-gas pipelines crisscross the subterranean network of electricity lines, a dangerously combustible mix thought to explain a rash of exploding manholes in the past year, with the latest blowout having come last week.
Even moderate rains - and Rio is a city of immense downpours - are enough to turn many thoroughfares into rushing rivers, including the area around iconic Maracana stadium, the jewel in the 2014 World Cup crown and venue for the opening of the Olympics.
As if that weren’t enough, Rio is dotted with more than 1,500 abandoned buildings, many of them in advanced states of disrepair, according to a recent report in Veja newsweekly, citing city authorities.
Last month’s dramatic disintegration of a 20-story office building added to the doubts about Rio’s capacity to play host to world-class events, with photos of the wreckage splashed across newspapers and websites the world over.
Seventeen bodies have been retrieved, and three people are still missing, but casualties could have numbered in the hundreds had the building fallen during the workday instead of at night.
Authorities are still investigating the cause of the collapse, which also pulled down two neighboring buildings, but officials have pointed to illegal construction inside the structure as the likely culprit.
“You can’t imagine this happening in the financial center of New York or Paris or even Beijing,” said Christopher Gaffney, an American academic who is a visiting professor at the graduate school of architecture and urban planning at the Fluminense Federal University in Rio’s sister city, Niteroi.
Mr. Gaffney’s research focuses on preparations for the World Cup and Olympics.
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