‘It’s going to be worse’: Brazil braces for more pain amid record flooding

The death toll has climbed to 56 in Brazil’s southern Rio Grande do Sul state, with tens of thousands displaced.

Overpowering floods and mudslides caused by torrential rains are continuing to sweep southern Brazil, killing at least 56 people and forcing tens of thousands out of their homes, the government said.

As well as raising the death toll on Saturday, the country’s civil defence agency said rising water levels in the state of Rio Grande do Sul were straining dams and threatening the metropolis of Porto Alegre.

Triggered by storms that began on Monday, the flooding is only expected to get worse, local authorities said, as rescuers scoured the ruins of washed-out homes, bridges, and roads for missing people.

“Forget everything you’ve seen, it’s going to be much worse in the metropolitan region,” Governor Eduardo Leite said on Friday as the state’s streets were submerged.

‘Nothing could be saved’

The flooding, Brazil’s worst in 80 years, has so far affected at least 265 municipalities in Rio Grande do Sul, according to the southernmost state’s civil defence department.

It has injured at least 74 people, displaced more than 24,000, and left 350,000 with some form of property damage.

“Nothing could be saved,” said Claudio Almiro, who lost his home and possessions to the flooding.

“Many people have even lost their lives. I raise my hand to heaven and thank God that I’m alive.”

View of a flooded house at the Sarandi neighborhood in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil on May 3, 2024. - Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Thursday visited the country's south where floods and mudslides caused by torrential rains have killed 29 people, with the toll expected to rise. (Photo by Anselmo Cunha / AFP)
A flooded house in the Sarandi neighbourhood in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, on May 3, 2024 [Anselmo Cunha/AFP]

Residents in several cities and towns have been left completely cut off from the world, with no electricity or telephone access, while others have been forced to abandon their livestock.

“You don’t know if the water will continue to rise or what will happen to the animals, they may soon drown,” said Raul Metzel, from Capela de Santana, north of the state’s capital.

Five days in, as the rainfall shows no signs of letting up, four of the state’s dams are at risk of collapsing, creating the risk of a new “emergency situation”, according to civil defence officials.

Brazil’s federal government has sent aircraft, boats and more than 600 soldiers to help clear roads, distribute food, water and mattresses, and set up shelters, while local volunteers have also helped with search efforts.

Rains, mudslides kill 29 in southern Brazil's 'worst disaster'
Volunteer Anilto Alvares da Silva prepares to search for residents trapped inside their houses in the Quilombo neighbourhood in Sao Sebastiao do Cai, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, on May 2, 2024 [Anselmo Cunha/AFP]

‘Disastrous cocktail’

Climatologist Francisco Eliseu Aquino said the devastating storms were the result of a “disastrous cocktail” of global warming and the El Nino weather phenomenon.

South America’s largest country has recently experienced a string of extreme weather events, including a cyclone in September that killed at least 31 people.

Aquino said the region’s particular geography meant it was often confronted by the effects of tropical and polar air masses colliding – but these events have “intensified due to climate change”.

And when they coincide with El Nino, a periodic warming of the waters in the tropical Pacific, the atmosphere becomes more unstable, he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies