Floods in southern Brazil kill at least 60, with 101 people missing


RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Massive floods in Brazil’s southern Rio Grande do Sul state killed at least 60 people and another 101 were reported missing, according to Sunday’s toll from local authorities.

At least 155 people were injured, while damage from the rains forced more than 80,000 people from their homes. Approximately 15,000 took refuge in schools, gymnasiums and other temporary shelters.

The floods left a wake of devastation, including landslides, washed-out roads and collapsed bridges across the state. Operators reported electricity and communications cuts. More than 800,000 people are without a water supply, according to the civil defense agency, which cited figures from water company Corsan.

On Saturday evening, residents in the town of Canoas stood up to their shoulders in muddy water and formed a human chain to pull boats carrying people to safety, according to video footage shared by local UOL news network.

The Guaiba river reached a record level of 5.33 metres (17.5 feet) on Sunday morning at 8 a.m. local time, surpassing levels seen during a historic 1941 deluge, when the river reached 4.76 metres.

“I repeat and insist: the devastation to which we are being subjected is unprecedented,” State Gov. Eduardo Leite said on Sunday morning. He had previously said that the state will need a “kind of ‘Marshall Plan’ to be rebuilt.”

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva arrived in Rio Grande do Sul on Sunday, accompanied by Defense Minister José Múcio, Finance Minister Fernando Haddad and Environment Minister Marina Silva, among others.

During Sunday mass at the Vatican, Pope Francis said he was praying for the state’s population. “May the Lord welcome the dead and comfort their families and those who had to abandon their homes,” he said.

The downpour started Monday and was expected to last through to Sunday. In some areas, such as valleys, mountain slopes and cities, more than 300 millimeters (11.8 inches) of rain fell in less than a week, according to Brazil’s National Institute of Meteorology, known by the Portuguese acronym INMET, on Thursday.

The heavy rains were the fourth such environmental disaster in a year, following floods in July, September and November 2023 that killed 75 people in total.

Weather across South America is affected by the climate phenomenon El Niño, a periodic, naturally occurring event that warms surface waters in the Equatorial Pacific region. In Brazil, El Niño has historically caused droughts in the north and intense rainfall in the south.

This year, the impacts of El Niño have been particularly dramatic, with a historic drought in the Amazon. Scientists say extreme weather is happening more frequently due to human-caused climate change.

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