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Floods in Brazil: race against time to rescue victims

A race against time is underway on Sunday in the south of Brazil to deal with the monster floods which have devastated the country. the state of Rio Grande do Sul, causing the death of around sixty people and driving 70,000 others from their homes.

From the waterlogged streets or from the sky, the scale of the disaster is striking: houses whose roofs can barely be seen, residents who lost everything in a few minutes and the center of Porto Alegre, the modern capital of the state where 1.4 million people live, completely flooded.

According to the municipality, the Guaiba River which crosses the city has reached the record level of 5, 09 meters, well beyond the historic peak of 4.76 m recorded during the floods of 1941.

The water continues to advance in the metropolis and a hundred other localities, with ever more dramatic consequences.

In addition to the approximately 70,000 people evacuated from their homes, more than a million homes are deprived of water and the scale of the destruction is currently incalculable, according to Civil Defense. In total, half a million people were directly affected by the disaster and at least 74 people are missing.

Rosana Custodio, a 37-year-old nurse who had to flee her home in Porto Alegre, “lost everything”. “Thursday around midnight, the waters started to rise very quickly,” she told AFP via a WhatsApp message. “In a hurry, we went out in search of a safer place. But we couldn't walk (…). My husband put our two little ones in a kayak and rowed with a bamboo. My son and I swam to the end of the street.”

They took refuge in his brother-in-law's house, in Esteio, north of Porto Alegre, but the waters rose again on Friday and the tragedy repeated itself. “We were saved by a friend’s motorboat,” she said. Since then, she and her family have been sheltered but “we lost everything we had.”

Rainfall decreased overnight Saturday in Sunday but are expected to persist for the next 24 to 36 hours, with authorities now warning of landslides.

– “Key Day” –

Eduardo Leite, the state governor who described the situation as “dramatic and absolutely unprecedented”, will receive Brazilian President Lula on Sunday for the second time since the floods began. He has already called for a “Marshall Plan” to rebuild the region.

Floods in Brazil: race against time to rescue victims

A group of volunteer rescuers in Porto Alegre on May 4, 2024 © AFP – Carlos Fabal

In the meantime, on the ground, the same scenes are repeated: residents taking refuge on their roofs waiting for help and small boats navigating what were streets and avenues.< /p>

Sunday will be a “key day” for relief operations, said Presidential Communications Minister Paulo Pimenta.

< p>Concern is also starting to rise regarding the lack of food and the breakdown of production chains in this agricultural state, one of the most dynamic in Brazil and which accounts for a fifth of the country's GDP.

Faced with the risk of shortages, the mayor of Porto Alegre, Sebastiao Melo, called on the population to ration water after the forced closure of four of the city's six water treatment plants.

– “Disastrous cocktail” –

The floods have partly cut Porto Alegre off from the rest of the country. According to the traffic police, access routes from the south are cut off about 15 km from the city, but it is still possible to access it from the north.

The main bus station is flooded and closed and the Porto Alegre international airport has suspended all operations since Friday for an indefinite period.

Rain is favored by “a disastrous cocktail” which mixes the El Niño meteorological phenomenon with climate change and other extreme phenomena, Brazilian climatologist Francisco Eliseu Aquino told AFP.

Rio Grande do Sul has already been hit several times by deadly bad weather, notably in September, when 31 people died after the passage of a devastating cyclone.

According to experts, these extreme weather phenomena have increased in frequency and intensity with global warming.

Brazil experienced a historic drought last year in the north of the country and the number of forest fires reached a record from January to April.

All rights of reproduction and representation reserved. © (2024) Agence France-Presse

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116