When the avalanche of mud swept through Vanessa Silva's neighborhood, it punched out the front wall of her house and poured right into her kitchen and bathroom.
Six months later, the mess of brick, twisted metal and dirt is still there. Silva and her family are still camping with friends, while their suffering turns into rage over allegations that money for their recovery from Brazil's worst disaster in a century has been stolen.
Even in a country used to money-for-favors scandals and politicians caught on videotape stuffing their pockets with bundles of cash, the news has been shocking. The torrential January rains that struck the mountains north of Rio de Janeiro killed 918 people. Another 322 were never found and are presumed dead. Bodies are still buried under debris. About 32,000 people are still without permanent homes.
And now the city of Teresopolis, where whole neighborhoods are still ravaged and covered in mud, has had its aid funds blocked as three separate investigations unfold: one into possible misuse of federal reconstruction funds, another into allegations of environmental lawbreaking, a third into claims of illegalities in the contracting of firms to work on the clean-up effort.
The details of the investigations, including the names of those involved, are kept secret as a matter of policy. But Silva has heard enough to be outraged. "It's like these politicians are laughing at us, taking advantage of us when we've been brought to our knees," she says.
Federal officials poured more than $100 million into the area in the weeks after the landslides. The money was supposed to pay for cleanup, repair of roads and power lines and rehousing of victims.
Some work was done in Teresopolis: a washed-out bridge was restored. City workers asphalted a road whose cobblestones were swept away. A steep embankment has been cemented over to protect houses below.
But government investigators say they found little record of how the funds were spent. They say many companies had no signed contracts, and schedules showed several companies were scheduled to be in the same place, doing the same job. There were no records of how much work was done. The auditors gave city officials until Aug. 22 to explain how the money was spent and put a hold on further funds.
Teresopolis' mayor, Jorge Mario Sedlacek, insisted nothing illegal had been done, but his city council nonetheless has put him on temporary leave. To those who called the aid cutoff heartless, Valdir Agapito Teixeira, head of internal audits for the Federal Comptroller General, replied: "This isn't about denying resources to this population, but we will have to punish those found responsible before we can continue."
City officials apparently tried to hamper auditors by moving the money through multiple bank accounts, said auditing coordinator Luiz Claudio de Freitas.
Shell companies that apparently had few employees and no equipment were hired to do work, Freitas said. He said auditors suspected municipal government officials of taking bribes from these companies in exchange for the contracts.
Teresopolis officials deny any wrongdoing, and some of the companies accused in the reports say any problems were due to confusion amid a disaster rather than corruption.
One of them, Contern Construction and Commerce, issued a statement saying it responded quickly to a call for help and worked for 45 days under extraordinary conditions.
"This work, which contributed to rescue and help thousands of people, was conducted legally and according to the needs of the moment," the statement said. "The services were monitored by the municipal government's own auditors."
Teresopolis isn't the only city under scrutiny. In nearby Nova Friburgo, where 428 people died, prosecutors last month ordered investigators to search City Hall and seize documents showing how the funds were used. They said city officials had refused to turn them over despite nine requests between January and July.
"This behavior is particularly shameful because the suspects were taking advantage of this country's biggest natural disaster," said Jesse Ambrosio dos Santos Junior, prosecutor in charge of the case.
The mayor, Demerval Neto, said in a written statement that the city's doors and archives were fully open to the investigators.
Meanwhile, construction of the 6,641 new houses promised by President Dilma Rousseff in January won't begin until October. About 700 unstable mountainsides need buttressing before the rains return.
One of them towers above Vanessa Silva's neighborhood, where hundreds of families have no choice but to remain in damaged homes marked for demolition. They do what they can to tackle the debris with shovels and wheelbarrows.
"If they at least gave us materials, we could do a lot of this ourselves," said Daniel de Oliveira Silva, a construction worker who is rebuilding the weekend home of a wealthy family. His own house remains without electricity and the bottom floor where his mother lived is entirely buried in mud, but he refuses to leave.
Vanessa Silva, tired of living off the charity of friends and separated from her six children, registered for government rent money. The bank account she opened just for that purpose is still empty, she said.
"They should be ashamed," Silva said of the government. "A lot of people got rich off this tragedy, but we're still here, waiting for God to provide."