Brazil floods: 100 lives lost, rescues interrupted by heavy rain

Authorities interrupted rescue efforts in flood-ravaged southern Brazil on Wednesday amid more rain and the risk of lightning and stiff winds that threaten to exacerbate a catastrophe that has already killed at least 100 people and left over 163,000 seeking shelter.

The floods that began last week, caused by unusually heavy rains, have destroyed highways and bridges in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, which borders Uruguay and Argentina.

“We’ve lost everything,” said Adriana Freitas in state capital Porto Alegre, where the Guaiba River burst its banks and inundated city streets. “It’s sad when we see the city, our house, in the middle of the water. It seems like it’s over, that the world has ended.”

At least 128 people are still missing, the state’s civil defence authority said, urging people living close to the Patos lagoon south of Porto Alegre to leave their homes immediately.

Army soldiers used amphibious armored cars to rescue people from flooding in Canoas, just north of the city, where the waters have reached a depth of some three meters and the streets can only be navigated by boat.

Aerial view of the flooded port area of Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, taken on May 8, 2024. /CFP

Aerial view of the flooded port area of Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, taken on May 8, 2024. /CFP

One team of local volunteer rescuers found about 20 dogs stranded on the second floor of an abandoned factory, offering food to those too fierce to take aboard.

Porto Alegre city hall warned such civilian rescuers on Wednesday afternoon to halt their operations, given the forecast for rain, lightning storms and winds exceeding 80 kilometers per hour.

In the Porto Alegre suburb of Eldorado do Sul, tractor driver Daniel Farias said he had spent days ferrying survivors to safety, carrying whole families out on his wheel loader, including pets.

“I have been living in this tractor with my children, to survive this calamity. We believe it will pass,” said Farias. He said he had slept little and eaten less.

Brazil’s national center for natural disasters warned that the southern area of Rio Grande do Sul state was under “high risk” of more flooding, with rainfall expected to restart after a brief hiatus.

Weather forecaster MetSul said in a statement the region could face more “very large” floods of “serious proportions.”

In neighboring Uruguay, storms and flooding have closed highways and left nearly 800 people displaced and over 3,000 people without power, the government said.

In Brazil, many residents in and around Porto Alegre, a city of 1.3 million people, have been living in darkness after power companies cut off electricity for security reasons.

They have faced shortages of products, especially drinking water. Supermarket managers said there was no access for supply trucks or employees trying to get to work. Mineral water sales were restricted in some supermarkets.

Volunteer rescue operations after dark in Porto Alegre were also hampered by looting, with police providing security using boats and even jet skis.

“We are not going out to rescue people at night without an armed escort, because it has become too risky,” said volunteer Lauro Strogulski.

Source(s): Reuters