Brazil floods: forecast to worsen in south

Eldorado do Sul, Brazil (AP) — Heavy rains began to fall on Brazil’s already flooded Rio Grande do Sul state on Saturday, leaving many of the remaining poor people with less means to move to less dangerous areas.

According to a Friday afternoon bulletin from Brazil’s National Meteorological Institute, up to 15 centimeters (nearly six inches) of rain could fall over the weekend, and the flooding could worsen. It also said there was a high chance of winds intensifying and water levels rising in and around the state capital, Porto Alegre, in and around Pados Lagoon.

Residents rest in 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 rains are lashing the northern and central regions of the state and water levels are rising.

Carlos Sambayo, 62, lives in a low-income community in Porto Alegre next to the stadium of soccer club Gremio. His two-story house doubles as a sports bar.

Even though the first floor was flooded, he said he wouldn’t leave, fearing looters in the high-crime neighborhood where police carry assault rifles on its flooded streets. But Sampaio has nowhere else to go, he told The Associated Press.

“I analyze how safe I am and I know my belongings are not safe,” Sambayo said. “Until I fight for what is mine, I will fight within my abilities not to reveal myself.”

At least 136 people have died and 125 are missing in the floods that began last week, local officials said Friday. Incessant rains have displaced more than 400,000 people, with 70,000 taking shelter in gymnasiums, schools and other temporary shelters.

“I came here on Monday – I lost my apartment in the flood,” said 32-year-old Uber driver Matthias Vicari inside a shelter where he is staying with his young son. “I haven’t spent much time here. I’m trying to think of something else.

Some residents of Rio Grande do Sul state have found sanctuary in second homes, including Alexandra Janela, co-owner of a content agency in Porto Alegre.

Janela and her partner volunteered when the floods started, but chose to leave after frequent power and water cuts. He moved to the coastal town of Capão da Canoa – so far unaffected by the floods – where his partner’s family has a summer house.

“We rode with my sister-in-law, took our two cats, my mother and her friend and got here safely. We left Porto Alegre a mess,” Janela, 42, told the AP by phone. “It is very clear that those who have the privilege of leaving are in a very secure position, and those who live in the poorest areas of Porto Alegre have no choice.”

Weather throughout South America is affected by the El Niño climate phenomenon, a naturally occurring phenomenon that periodically warms surface waters in the equatorial Pacific. In Brazil, El Niño historically causes drought in the north and extreme rain in the south, and this year the effects were particularly severe.

Scientists say extreme weather is often caused by climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels that release global warming greenhouse gas emissions, and they largely agree that the world must drastically reduce the burning of coal, oil and gas to curb global warming. .

But there is also a need for social policy responses, said Natalie Unterstel, president of Talanoa, a Rio de Janeiro-based climate policy think tank.

“An effective response to climate change in Brazil requires combating inequalities,” said Unterstel.

In Brazil, the poor often live in houses built with less resilient materials such as wood, and in uncontrolled areas vulnerable to extreme weather conditions, such as low-lying areas or steep hillsides.

“We cannot say that the worst is over,” Rio Grande do Sul Governor Eduardo Light said on social media on Friday. Earlier in the day, he estimated 19 billion reais ($3.7 billion) would be needed to rebuild the state.

The scale of the disaster could be comparable to Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans in 2005, wrote Sergio Vale, chief economist at MB Associates, in a note on Friday.

Rio Grande do Sul has the sixth-highest GDP per capita among Brazil’s 26 states and federal districts, according to the National Institute of Statistics. Most of the state’s population is descended from Italian and German immigrants.

“In the popular imagination, the people of Rio Grande do Sul are seen as white and affluent, but this is not true,” said Marilia Clos, a researcher at the climate think tank CIPO Platform. “Dispelling this fiction is critical because it’s built with a political agenda” to destroy black and poor residents, he said.

In Canoas, one of the most affected towns in the state, Paulo Cesar Wolf’s small wooden house, all his belongings, was submerged. The black truck driver now lives in the back of a borrowed truck with his six neighbors, who all cook, eat and sleep there.

Wolff, 54, has wanted to leave the rural area where she has lived since she was a child, but has nowhere else to go and doesn’t want to leave her four-year-old children behind.

“It’s too late for someone like me to go somewhere else,” Wolff said, as he stood on a freeway wearing a donated sweatshirt.

The Meteorological Department has predicted that the arrival of cold and dry air will reduce the chance of rain from Monday. But by Wednesday, temperatures will drop sharply and become freezing. It’s damp and hypothermic for those without electricity.

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

The UN Refugee Agency is distributing blankets and mattresses. It is sending additional supplies such as emergency shelters, kitchen kits, blankets, solar lights and hygiene kits from its stockpiles in northern Brazil and elsewhere in the region.

On Thursday, Brazil’s federal government announced a package of 50.9 billion reais ($10 billion) for workers, beneficiaries of social programs, state and municipal companies, companies 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 inaccessible areas due to blocked roads. The Navy has sent three ships to help the victims, including the multipurpose aircraft carrier Atlantic, considered the largest warship in Latin America. It reached the coast of the state on Saturday.

The United States has sent $20,000 for personal hygiene kits and cleaning supplies and will provide an additional $100,000 in humanitarian assistance through existing regional programs, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Friday.


Eleanor Hughes reports from Rio de Janeiro.


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