70,000 people have been driven from their homes as deadly floods hit Brazil

'Lost everything': 70,000 people driven from their homes as deadly floods hit Brazil

Residents struggled to find their way to safety in chaotic conditions

Porto Alegre:

Nearly 70,000 people have been driven from their homes by deadly floods, mudslides and violent storms in southern Brazil, with the major city of Porto Alegre particularly hard hit, the country’s civil defense said on Saturday.

Raging floods have left 57 dead, 74 people injured and another 67 missing, civil defense officials said.

The death toll does not include the two people killed in an explosion at a flooded gas station in Porto Alegre, witnessed by an AFP journalist, where rescue crews were trying to refuel.

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, has an all-time high of 5.04 meters (16.5 feet), well above the 4.76 meters that had stood as a record since the devastating floods of 1941.

Authorities scrambled to evacuate flooded neighborhoods as residents struggled to find their way to safety in chaotic conditions.

In addition to the 69,200 residents displaced from their homes, civil protection also said more than a million people were left without access to drinking water during the floods, describing the damage as incalculable.

Governor Eduardo Leite of Rio Grande do Sul said his state – normally one of Brazil’s most prosperous – needs a “Marshall plan” of heavy investment to rebuild after the catastrophe.

Long lines formed in many places as people tried to board buses, although bus service to and from the city center was cancelled.

Porto Alegre International Airport suspended all flights indefinitely on Friday.

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

He urged people to ration water after four of the city’s six treatment plants had to be closed.

In a live broadcast on Instagram, Governor Leite said the situation was “absolutely unprecedented,” the worst in the history of the state, home to agro-industrial production of soy, rice, wheat and corn.

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

Rescuers faced an enormous task, with entire cities inaccessible.

At least 300 municipalities have suffered storm damage in Rio Grande do Sul since Monday, according to local officials.

‘Water up to my waist’

About a third of the displaced people have been taken 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 region’s geography meant it often faced the effects of collisions between tropical and polar air masses, but these events have “intensified due to climate change.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)