The death toll from flooding in southern Brazil has risen to 58

Homeless people are rescued in the historic center of Porto Alegre, Rio da Grande do state, Brazil on May 4, 2024.  Floods caused by intense rainfall that hit southern Brazil left at least 56 dead and 67 missing, according to a new report.  on Saturday from the Civil Protection.

Homeless people are rescued in the historic center of Porto Alegre, Rio da Grande do state, Brazil on May 4, 2024. Floods caused by intense rainfall that hit southern Brazil left at least 56 dead and 67 missing, according to a new report. on Saturday from the Civil Protection. (AFP)

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil – The death toll from floods and mudslides caused by intense storms in southern Brazil has risen to 58 people, with the major city of Porto Alegre particularly hard hit, the country’s civil defense said Saturday.

The dead included two people killed in an explosion at a flooded gas station in Porto Alegre where rescue crews were trying to refuel, said an AFP journalist who witnessed the blast.

A total of 74 people were injured and another 67 missing in the raging floods, civil defense officials said.

Rapidly rising water levels in the state of Rio Grande do Sul put pressure on dams and posed a particular threat to the economically important Porto Alegre, a city of 1.4 million inhabitants.

The Guaiba River, which flows through the city, is at an all-time high: 5.04 meters (16.5 feet), well above the record 4.76 meters since the devastating floods of 1941.

The authorities tried to evacuate the flooded neighborhoods. “Despite the unfavorable weather, rescue operations are taking place day and night,” a government statement said.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva posted a video of a helicopter dropping a soldier on top of a house, where he smashed a hole in the roof with a rock and rescued a baby wrapped in a blanket.

In a northern suburb of Porto Alegre, 61-year-old Jose Augusto Moraes appeared shaken after rapidly rising waters flooded his home and he had to call firefighters to rescue a trapped child.

“I lost everything,” he told AFP.

‘It’s going to get much worse’

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!”

And in a live broadcast on Instagram, Eduardo Leite, governor of Rio Grande del Sul, said the situation was “absolutely unprecedented,” the worst in the history of a state that is one of the richest in Brazil.

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.

‘Water up to my waist’

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.

He said that even though he had lost everything, “many people lost their lives, so I raise my hands to heaven and thank God that he survived.”

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.

Lula, who visited the region on Thursday, blamed climate change.

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

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.”