Southern Brazil has been hit by its worst floods in more than 80 years. At least 39 people have died

SAO PAULO (AP) — Heavy rains in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul have killed 39 people and left 68 missing, the state civil protection agency said Friday. A record-breaking flood devastated cities and forced thousands to flee their homes.

It is the fourth environmental disaster in a year, following floods in July, September and November 2023 that killed a total of 75 people.

According to the Brazilian Geological Service, the statewide flooding is greater than that seen during the historic deluge of 1941. In some cities, water levels have been at their highest since records began nearly 150 years ago, the agency said.

On Thursday, a dam at a hydroelectric power station between the towns of Bento Goncalves and Cotipora partially collapsed and the entire towns of Lajeado and Estrela along the Taquari river valley were completely flooded. In the city of Feliz, 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the state capital, Porto Alegre, a massively swollen river washed away a bridge connecting it to the neighboring town of Linha Nova.

Operators reported that power, communication and water were cut across the state. More than 24,000 people had to leave their homes, the Civil Defense Agency said.

Without internet, phone service or electricity, residents struggled to provide updates or information to their relatives living in other states. As helicopters continued to fly over cities, stranded families with children waited on rooftops for rescue.

Streets are flooded after heavy rains in Sao Sebastiano do Cai, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, Thursday, May 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Carlos Macedo)

Firefighters evacuate people from a flooded area after heavy rain in Sao Sebastiao do Cai, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, Thursday, May 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Carlos Macedo)

Firefighters evacuate people from a flooded area after heavy rain in Sao Sebastiao do Cai, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, Thursday, May 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Carlos Macedo)

Streets are flooded after heavy rains in Sao Sebastiano do Cai, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, Thursday, May 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Carlos Macedo)

Streets are flooded after heavy rains in Sao Sebastiano do Cai, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, Thursday, May 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Carlos Macedo)

Isolete Neumann, 58, who lives in the town of Lajeado in the Taquari River Valley, told The Associated Press that she had never seen a scene like the one she was now experiencing.

“People made barricades with sand and gravel in front of the hospitals. It felt like a horror movie,” he said over the phone. Some in her region were so desperate that they threw themselves into the streams of water.

Newman’s own area didn’t flood, but there was no running water, and he hadn’t showered since Tuesday. She said she collects rainwater in a tank for cooking. A clothes shop he owned in the central part of the city was flooded, he added.

“I don’t even know what it’s supposed to look like. There shouldn’t be anything left.

Rain is expected to begin Monday and last until Saturday, Marcelo Cellucci, chief meteorologist at the National Center for Monitoring and Warnings of Natural Disasters, told Brazil’s public television network on Friday.

On Thursday night, Governor Eduardo Light warned the state’s people – known as Gauchos – of continued rain and flooding. The situation in Porto Alegre is expected to worsen, he said.

“As a man, I’m devastated inside, like every gaucho,” he said. “But I am here as governor and I guarantee that we will not relent. We do everything with focus, attention, discipline and fury to ensure that everything we can achieve is done.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva acknowledged the flood victims at a press conference on Friday. With Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Brasilia.

“Minister Fumio Kishida’s first words at the meeting we held were in solidarity with the people of Rio Grande do Sul state, who are suffering from the worst floods they have ever known. “Never before in the history of Brazil has there been so much rain in one place,” Lula said.

Weather has been affected across South America Climate phenomenon El Niño, a periodic, naturally occurring phenomenon that warms surface waters in the equatorial Pacific. In Brazil, El Niño has historically caused droughts in the north and heavy rains in the south.

This year, the impacts of El Niño have been particularly dramatic A historic drought in the Amazon. Scientists say extreme weather is becoming more frequent because of human-caused climate change.

Residents and their pets evacuate a flooded area after heavy rain in Sao Sebastiao do Cai, Rio Grande do Sul province, Brazil, Thursday, May 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Carlos Macedo)

Residents and their pets evacuate a flooded area after heavy rain in Sao Sebastiao do Cai, Rio Grande do Sul province, Brazil, Thursday, May 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Carlos Macedo)

Karina Lima, 36, a doctorate in climatology at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, told The Associated Press that the state is located in a region that has certain characteristics that amplify El Niño’s destructive power.

“Models have long predicted that Rio Grande do Sul average annual precipitation and extreme precipitation will continue to increase, meaning more concentrated and intense precipitation,” he said.