The death toll in the flooding in southern Brazil has risen to 56

Aerial view of people walking through a flooded street in the Navegantes neighborhood of Porto Alegre, Rio da Grande do state, Brazil on May 4, 2024. The floods caused by the heavy rains that hit southern Brazil left at least 56 dead and 67 missing . This is evident from a new report from the Civil Protection on Saturday. (Photo by Carlos Fabal / AFP)

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AFP) – The death toll from floods and mudslides caused by intense storms in southern Brazil has risen to 56 people, with 74 injured and another 67 missing, the country’s civil defense said on Saturday.

Rapidly rising water levels in the state of Rio Grande do Sul put pressure on dams and threatened the metropolis of Porto Alegre, one of the largest cities in southern Brazil.

Authorities there tried to evacuate some flooded neighborhoods – in some cases using helicopters to rescue people stranded on rooftops.

And heavy rainfall of “very heavy severity” is expected to continue until Sunday, Civil Protection authorities said.

The rapid rise of the Guaiba River, which runs through Porto Alegre, caused severe flooding in the city’s historic center.

As water begins to exceed the dike along another local river, the Gravatai, Mayor Sebastiao Malo issued a stern warning on social media platform X: “Communities must leave!”

That warning came a day after Rio Grande del Sul Governor Eduardo Leite warned on X that “things will get much worse in the metropolitan region.”

Leite called it the worst disaster in the state’s history.

Residential areas were submerged as far as the eye could see, with roads destroyed and bridges swept away by powerful currents.

Rescuers faced an enormous task, with entire cities – some of which were without electricity or drinking water – rendered inaccessible.

According to local officials, at least 300 communities have suffered storm damage in Rio Grande do Sul since Monday, displacing more than 24,600 people.

About a third of the displaced people have been moved to shelters in sports centers, schools and other facilities.

“When I left the house, I was up to my waist in water,” a haggard Claudio Almiro, 55, told AFP at a cultural center converted into a shelter in a suburb north of Porto Alegre.

“I’ve lost everything.”

The rain also hit the southern state of Santa Catarina, where a man was killed on Friday when his car was swept away by raging waters in the municipality of Ipira.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva visited the region on Thursday and vowed there will be “no shortage of human or material resources” in the response to the disaster, which he blamed on climate change.

Climatologist Francisco Eliseu Aquino told AFP on Friday that the devastating storms were the result of a “disastrous cocktail” of global warming and the El Nino weather phenomenon.

South America’s largest country has recently experienced a series of extreme weather events, including a cyclone in September that claimed at least 31 lives.

Aquino said the specific geography of the region meant it often faced the effects of collisions between tropical and polar air masses – but these events have “intensified as a result of climate change.”