May 23, 2024

At least 10 people have died in floods caused by torrential rains in Brazil’s south, authorities said Wednesday, as rescuers searched for nearly two dozen individuals reported missing.

Deluges in the state of Rio Grande do Sul have displaced some 3,300 people in more than 100 municipalities, many of whom have been moved to shelters.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva announced he would visit the area, which governor Eduardo Leite said was dealing with “the worst disaster in the history of our state.”

Leite said work was continuing to locate the missing even as more heavy rains were forecast.

And he appealed for help in the form of people “trained for situations of chaos and war.”

Persistent rains have destroyed bridges and blocked roads, leaving several communities in the state completely cut off.

“We lost everything, everything, all the food, everything we had in the house,” Adriana Salete Gas of the city of Santa Cruz do Sul told local media.

“Our house is two meters high and it still flooded.”

Authorities have urged people to avoid areas along state highways due to a risk of mudslides, and those who live near rivers or on hillsides to evacuate.

Since Tuesday, rescuers and soldiers have been scrambling to free families trapped in their homes, many stuck on rooftops to escape rising waters.

The state’s deputy governor, Gabriel Souza, said damages have been estimated at $20 million.

At least 11 people have been injured and nearly 20,000 affected in other ways by the floods, officials said.

Bad weather has hampered the rescue efforts, often in hard-to-reach places, and the death toll has continued rising from an initial five reported Tuesday.

Lula wrote on X that he would visit the area Thursday “to verify the situation.”

The president had earlier announced the federal government was sending help to respond to the disaster, which he said was the result of climate change.

– ‘A nightmare’ –

Tens of thousands of people across Rio Grande do Sul have been left without drinking water, officials said, and telephone and internet services were down in at least 60 municipalities.

In an effort to reach dry ground, residents of the small city of Encantado have been leaving the area on foot or by motorcycle over damaged and mud-caked roads, AFPTV observed.

About 100 kilometers (62 miles) away, the town of Sinimbu was submerged in water, its streets transformed into rivers.

Mayor Sandra Backes said the town was without internet, drinking water and electricity, describing the situation as “a nightmare.”

“Sinimbu is like a war zone, completely destroyed… All the stores, businesses, supermarkets — everything is devastated,” she said in a video posted on Instagram.

In Santa Cruz do Sul, lifeguards used boats to transport residents, many of them children, to safety.

The region’s rivers had already been swollen from previous storms, and torrential rains in late March left at least 25 people dead in the states of Rio de Janeiro and Espirito Santo.

South America’s largest country has suffered a string of recent extreme weather events, which experts say are made more likely by climate change.

The floods came amid a cold front battering the south and southeast, following on a wave of extreme heat.

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