Flooding, landslides kill at least 85 in Brazil as climate crisis creates ‘disastrous cocktail’
People evacuate a flooded area in São Sebastião do Cai, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, Thursday, May 2, 2024. | Carlos Macedo/AP

Following days of heavy rains in Brazil, the country’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul is experiencing severe landslides and flooding. At least 85 people have been killed.

Of the 497 cities in the area, more than two-thirds have been affected by the storms, which have destroyed roads and bridges, reported Reuters.

On Monday, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva requested that a state of public calamity be declared by Congress. The declaration would free up government funds free from a spending cap imposed by new rules last year.

“We don’t have an estimate yet of what will be necessary,” said Simone Tebet, the country’s minister of planning, budget and management, as Reuters reported. “Only when the water recedes will we see the immense extent of the damage in the state.”

Roughly 150,000 people have been displaced by the floods, with more than 130 still missing, according to state officials, as reported BBC News.

More heavy rain forecast for the coming week is expected to add to the dangerous conditions in the region. Many residents were forced to evacuate, including some vulnerable people aided by rescue workers.

“Despite improvements in parts of the state, some areas will remain under severe conditions for a very long time,” said MetSul Meteorologia, a local weather agency, as Reuters reported.

Canoas resident Flávio Rosa, who is 72, said it was the first time he had seen the annual rains in Rio Grande do Sul cause such widespread damage.

“I’ve seen other floods, but nothing like this,” Rosa said, as reported by Reuters.

Governor of Rio Grande do Sul Eduardo Leite said the death toll could rise substantially as more areas are reached by rescue workers.

“When the rain stops, they have been doing short operations to save as many people as possible. Yesterday (Saturday) [we were] able to intensify operations,” Colonel José Carlos Sallet, Rio Grande do Sul Military Firefighters subcommander, told CNN.

Rescue teams were using inflatable rafts to rescue residents and their pets.

According to railway operator Rumo, the extreme weather had caused train disruptions in the state, Reuters reported.

One of the country’s busiest airports, Salgado Filho International in the state’s capital of Porto Alegre, suspended operations until the end of May at least due to flooding from the Guaiba River, BBC News said.

Local officials said the river had reached 17.4 feet, breaking the previous record from 1941 of 15.6 feet.

The severe storms were caused by an unusual mix of high humidity, hotter than average temperatures and strong winds.

This article was reposted from EcoWatch.

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Cristen Hemingway Jaynes
Cristen Hemingway Jaynes

Cristen Hemingway Jaynes covers the environment, climate change, oceans, the Arctic, animals, anthropology, astronomy, plastics pollution, and politics. She holds a JD and an Ocean & Coastal Law Certificate from the University of Oregon School of Law.