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Floods in southern Brazil kill at least 75 people in seven days – NBC Boston

Massive flooding in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul has killed at least 75 people over the past seven days, and another 103 were reported missing, local authorities said on Sunday.

At least 155 people were injured, while damage from the rain forced more than 88,000 people from their homes. About 16,000 took refuge in schools, gyms and other temporary shelters.

The floods left a trail of destruction, including landslides, washed-out roads and collapsed bridges across the state. Operators reported power and communications outages. More than 800,000 people are without water supply, according to civil protection, which cites figures from water company Corsan.

A woman is transported to a medical center after being rescued in the Sarandi neighborhood of Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, on May 5, 2024. The challenge is enormous and against the clock: authorities and neighbors try to prevent a similar situation. A greater tragedy than that already experienced in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, where authorities say 66 people died and 80,000 were displaced by the floods.

A rescue team pulled an elderly man in serious medical condition into a helicopter from a remote area in the municipality of Bento Gonçalves, footage from military firefighters showed. Streams of brown water flowed over a nearby dam.

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

The Guaiba River reached a record high of 5.33 meters (17.5 feet) at 8 a.m. local time on Sunday morning, surpassing levels observed during a historic 1941 deluge, when the river reached a height of 4.76 meters achieved.

“I repeat and continue to emphasize: the devastation we are being exposed to is unprecedented,” Governor Eduardo Leite said on Sunday morning. He had previously said the state needs a “kind of Marshall Plan” to be rebuilt.

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva visited Rio Grande do Sul for the second time on Sunday, accompanied by Defense Minister José Múcio, Finance Minister Fernando Haddad and Environment Minister Marina Silva, among others. The leftist leader and his team surveyed the flooded streets of Porto Alegre from a helicopter.

“We must stop chasing disasters. We have to see in advance what calamities can happen and we have to get to work,” Lula told journalists afterwards.

During Sunday Mass at the Vatican, Pope Francis said he was praying for the people of the state. “May the Lord welcome the dead and comfort their families and those who had to leave their homes,” he said.

The rain started Monday and was expected to continue through Sunday. Some areas, such as valleys, mountainsides and cities, received more than 300 millimeters of rain in less than a week on Thursday, according to Brazil’s National Institute of Meteorology, known by its Portuguese acronym INMET.

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

People are transported in an excavator after being rescued in the Sarandi neighborhood of Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, on May 5, 2024. The challenge is huge and against the clock: authorities and neighbors are trying to prevent an even bigger tragedy than what has already happened in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, where authorities say 66 people were killed and 80,000 displaced by the floods.

The weather in South America is affected by the climate phenomenon El Niño, a periodic, naturally occurring event that warms surface waters in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean. In Brazil, El Niño has historically led to drought in the north and heavy rainfall in the south.

This year, the effects of El Niño were particularly dramatic, with a historic drought in the Amazon. Scientists say extreme weather is becoming more common due to human-induced climate change.

“These tragedies will continue to happen, worse and more frequent,” said Suely Araújo, public policy coordinator at the Climate Observatory, a network of dozens of environmental and social groups.

Brazil must adapt to the impacts of climate change, she said in a statement on Friday, referring to a process known as adaptation.