Brazil floods: expected to worsen in the south

Eldorado do Sul, Brazil – More rain began to fall on Saturday in Brazil’s already flooded state of Rio Grande do Sul, where many remaining residents are poor with limited ability to move to less risky areas.

More than 15 centimeters (about six inches) of rain could fall over the weekend and potentially worsen flooding, according to a Friday afternoon bulletin from Brazil’s National Meteorological Institute. She added that there is also a high possibility that the winds will intensify and the water level will rise in Lake Patos, next to Porto Alegre, the state capital, and the surrounding area.

Residents rest at a temporary shelter for people whose homes were flooded by heavy rains, in Canoas, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, Wednesday, May 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Carlos Macedo)

As of Saturday afternoon, heavy rain fell in the northern and central regions of the state, and water levels rose.

Carlos Sampaio, 62, lives in a low-income community next to Gremio Football Club’s stadium in Porto Alegre. His two-story home could be used as a sports bar.

Although the first floor was flooded, he said he would not leave, partly because of fear of looters in the crime-ridden neighborhood, where police carry assault rifles as they patrol its flooded streets. But Sampaio also had nowhere else to go, he told the Associated Press.

“I am analyzing how safe I am, and I know that my belongings are not safe at all,” Sampaio said. “As long as I can fight for what is mine, within my ability to not leave myself exposed, I will fight.”

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Local authorities said on Friday that at least 136 people had died in the floods since they began last week, and 125 others were missing. The number of people displaced from their homes due to heavy rains exceeded 400,000 people, including 70,000 seeking refuge in gyms, schools and other temporary sites.

“I came here on Monday – I lost my apartment due to the flood,” said Matthews Vicari, a 32-year-old Uber driver, inside the shelter where he is staying with his young son. “I don’t spend much time here. I try to get out and think about something else.”

Some residents of Rio Grande do Sul state have found refuge in second homes, including Alexandra Zanella, who co-owns a content agency in Porto Alegre.

Zanella and her partner volunteered when the floods started, but chose to move out after repeated power and water outages. She headed to the coastal town of Capao da Canoa – so far unaffected by the floods – where her partner’s family has a summer house.

“We took a trip with my sister-in-law, took our two cats, my mother and a friend of hers and came here safely. We left a mess in Porto Alegre,” Zanella, 42, told the AP by phone. “It is very clear that those who have “The privilege of leaving is in a safer position, and those who live in the poor areas of Porto Alegre have no other choice.”

The weather throughout South America is affected by the climate phenomenon El Niño, a natural event that periodically warms surface waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. In Brazil, El Niño has historically caused droughts in the north and heavy rains in the south, and the effects this year have been particularly severe.

Scientists say extreme weather is occurring more frequently because of climate change, caused by burning fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases that cause global warming, and they overwhelmingly agree that the world needs to dramatically reduce the burning of coal, oil and gas to limit global warming. .

Social policy responses are also needed, said Nathalie Unterstil, president of the Talanoa Institute, a climate policy think tank based in Rio de Janeiro.

“Providing an effective response to climate change in Brazil requires us to combat inequality,” Unterstiel said.

In Brazil, poor people often live in homes built of less resilient materials such as wood and in unregulated areas more vulnerable to damage from extreme weather, such as low-lying areas or on steep hillsides.

“We cannot say the worst is over,” Rio Grande do Sul Governor Eduardo Leyte said on social media on Friday. The previous day, it was estimated that 19 billion riyals ($3.7 billion) would be needed to rebuild the country.

The scale of devastation could be similar to Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans in 2005, Sergio Valle, chief economist at MB Associates, wrote in a note Friday.

Rio Grande do Sul has the sixth-highest GDP per capita among Brazil’s 26 states and federal district, according to the National Statistical Institute. Many of the state’s residents are descendants of Italian and German immigrants.

“In the popular imagination, the people of Rio Grande do Sul are seen as white and well-off, but that is not the reality,” said Marilia Clos, a researcher at CIPO, a climate think tank. “It is very important to dispel this fantasy, because it is based on a political goal” of erasing black and poor populations, she said.

In the city of Canoas, one of the most affected cities in the state, Paolo Cesar Wolf’s small wooden house was completely submerged, along with all his possessions. The truck driver, who is black, now lives in the back of a loaned truck with six of his neighbors, who cook, eat and sleep there.

Wolf, 54, is considering leaving the rural area where he has lived since his childhood, but he has nowhere else to go and does not want to leave his four adult children behind.

“It’s too late for someone like me to move somewhere else,” Wolf said, wearing a donated jacket as he stood on the highway.

The Meteorological Institute expects that the arrival of a mass of cold, dry air will reduce the chance of rain starting Monday. But it also means temperatures are set to drop sharply, to near freezing by Wednesday. This makes hypothermia a concern for those who are damp and lack electricity.

Celebrities, including supermodel Gisele Bündchen from Rio Grande do Sul, shared links and information on where and how to donate to help flood victims. Churches, businesses, schools and ordinary citizens rallied across the country to offer support.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees distributes blankets and mattresses. It is sending additional items, such as emergency shelters, kitchen sets, blankets, solar lamps and hygiene kits, from its stocks in northern Brazil and elsewhere in the region.

The Brazilian federal government on Thursday announced a 50.9 billion reais ($10 billion) package for employees, beneficiaries of social programs, states, municipalities, businesses and rural producers in Rio Grande do Sul.

On the same day, the Brazilian Air Force parachuted more than two tons of food and water into areas inaccessible due to closed roads. The Navy sent three ships to assist those affected, including the multi-purpose aircraft ship Atlantic, which it said is considered the largest warship in Latin America. It reached the state’s coast on Saturday.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on Friday that the United States had sent $20,000 for personal hygiene and cleaning supplies and would provide an additional $100,000 in humanitarian aid through existing regional programs.

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Eleonore Hughes reports from Rio de Janeiro.

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