Death toll rises to 10 after rock wall fell on boaters in Brazilian lake

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Updated January 9, 2022 4:00 p.m. ET

BRASILIA, Brazil — The death toll from an accident in which a rocky cliff slab flipped over boaters on a Brazilian lake has risen to 10, police said Sunday. Authorities worked to identify the dead and divers were searching the lake in case there were other victims.

Police Chief Marcos Pimenta said it was possible some people were missing following Saturday’s crash in Minas Gerais state. At least 32 people were injured, but most were released from hospitals on Saturday evening.

The accident occurred between the towns of Sao Jose da Barra and Capitolio, from where the boats had departed. Video footage showed a gathering of small boats moving slowly near the steep rocky cliff on Lake Furnas when a crack appeared in the rock and a huge piece toppled over several of the vessels.

A tourist boat navigates a canyon in Lake Furnas, near the city of Capitolio, Brazil, September 2, 2021. A huge slab of rock broke off the canyon wall on Saturday and rolled over on boaters killing at least six people and injuring dozens in the popular tourist destination in the state of Minas Gerais.

The bodies were taken to the town of Passos, where coroners worked to identify them. The work was difficult due to the rock’s “high energy impact” on boaters, regional civil police official Marcos Pimenta said. He said one victim had been identified as Júlio Borges Antunes, 68.

Lake Furnas, which was created in 1958 for the installation of a hydroelectric power station, is a popular tourist attraction in the region about 420 kilometers (260 miles) north of Sao Paulo.

A tourist boat navigates through a canyon in Lake Furnas, near the city of Capitolio, Brazil, September 2, 2021.

A tourist boat navigates through a canyon in Lake Furnas, near the city of Capitolio, Brazil, September 2, 2021.

Officials have suggested the detachment of the wall could have been linked to heavy rains that recently caused flooding in the state and forced nearly 17,000 people from their homes.

The head of the Applied Geology Division of the Brazilian Geological Service, Tiago Antonelli, said the cliff wall is subject to centuries of erosion and sensitive to rain, heat and cold.

“It’s normal for this to happen in many canyons, even with rocks of this size. But nowadays, with the increase in tourism, people are starting to approach these places and record these phenomena with their cell phones,” Antonelli said.

Joana Sánchez, professor of geology at the Federal University of Goiás, said authorities should have controlled the site to avoid accidents, especially during the rainy season. The boats should have been kept at least one kilometer (0.6 miles) from the waterfall where the accident happened, she said.

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