Southern Brazil has been hit by the 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 destroyed cities and forced thousands to flee their homes.

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

According to Brazil’s Geological Survey, statewide flooding is greater than during the historic deluge of 1941. In some cities, water levels are 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 submerged. In the city of Feliz, 80 kilometers from the capital, Porto Alegre, a hugely swollen river has swept away a bridge connecting the city to the neighboring town of Linha Nova.

Operators reported power, communications and water shutoffs 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 flooded due to heavy rain in São Sebastião 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 flooded due to heavy rain in São Sebastião do Cai, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, Thursday, May 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Carlos Macedo)

Streets flooded due to heavy rain in São Sebastião 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 experiencing.

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

Newman’s own area was not flooded, but there was no running water and he had not showered since Tuesday. She said she collects rainwater in a tank for cooking. His clothing store in the central part of the city was flooded.

“I don’t even know what it should look like. There should be nothing left.

The rain is expected to start Monday and continue until Saturday, Marcelo Cellucci, chief meteorologist at the National Center for Monitoring and Warnings of Natural Disasters, told Brazilian public television on Friday.

On Thursday evening, Governor Eduardo Light warned the people of the state – known as Gauchos – of incessant rain and flooding. The situation in Porto Alegre is expected to deteriorate, he said.

“As a man, I am broken inside, like any gaucho,” he said. “But I am here as governor and I promise that we will not waver. We do everything with focus, attention, discipline and anger to ensure that everything we can achieve gets done.

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

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

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

This year the consequences of El Niño were particularly dramatic A historic drought in the Amazon region. Scientists say extreme weather is becoming more common due to human-induced 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 from 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 the destructive power of El Niño.

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