The Brazilian city being swallowed up from underneath

Neighborhoods in the northeastern Brazilian city of Maceió have been left looking like war zones, with the ground beginning to sink as a result of abusive salt-mining practices by petrochemical firm Braskem

Abandoned home in the neighborhood of Pinheiro, Maceió. Structural damage made thousands of buildings uninhabitable. Photo: Marco Antônio Barros da Silva for TBR

MACEIÓ — “Come and visit the Brazilian Caribbean!” proclaims Brazil’s tourism board, alongside images of the white sandy beaches and turquoise waters of Maceió, capital of the country’s northeastern state of Alagoas.

On the ground, however, the situation is quite different from the one shown in holiday brochures. Indeed, streets in some of Maceió’s most traditional neighborhoods look more like war zones than tourist attractions.

Walking around the city, one encounters entire blocks of dilapidated houses,...

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