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Southeast Brazil battered by downpours, at least a dozen killed

By AFP

March 24, 2024 08:56 AM


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A powerful storm has claimed at least a dozen lives in southeastern Brazil, mostly in the mountainous parts of Rio de Janeiro state, where authorities on Saturday deployed rescue teams to deal with a "critical" situation.

The deluge came as Brazil, South America's largest country, suffers through a recent string of extreme weather events, which experts say are more likely to occur due to climate change.

At least eight people have been killed in the state of Rio de Janeiro, officials said, while the neighboring state of Espirito Santo has confirmed at least four dead and seven missing.

Such environmental tragedies "are intensifying with climate change," President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, adding that thousands had been left homeless by the storm.

He expressed sympathy for the victims, and said his government was working with state and local authorities to "protect, prevent and repair flood damage."

Four of the deaths in Rio state occurred when the storm caused a house to collapse in the city of Petropolis, 70 kilometers (45 miles) inland from the capital.

An AFP team witnessed the rescue of a girl Saturday morning who had been buried more than 16 hours in the rubble.

Her father, who was found dead next to her, "heroically protected the girl with his body," a neighbor and owner of a local bar told AFP.

"We are in pain, but grateful for this miracle," said Luis Claudio de Souza, 63.

Farther up the coast, in the state of Espirito Santo, officials have thus far reported four deaths.

The state's governor Renato Casagrande described a "chaotic situation" in the town of Mimoso do Sul, with the number of fatalities there yet to be determined.

And in Sao Paolo state, two children were hospitalized for injuries sustained during the storm on Friday.

Late Friday, Rio Governor Claudio Castro said the situation in Petropolis was "critical" due to "intense rains and the overflowing of the Quitandinha River."

 

- Heat wave -

 

Dozens of soldiers with dogs were deployed to the scene, while schools opened their doors to the displaced, the governor said.

Some 90 people have been rescued since Friday, according to a bulletin from an emergency committee comprising Rio government and civil defense officials.

Images on local media showed rivers of water, mud and debris rushing down slopes in picturesque Petropolis, where memories remain fresh of a catastrophic storm in February 2022 that claimed 241 lives.

In Mimoso do Sul, a fire truck was seen being dragged down a street by currents, while images released Saturday by the state fire department showed entire neighborhoods under water, with only the roofs of houses visible.

Forecasts predicted heavy rainfall continuing Saturday in the mountains and north of Rio.

Petropolis has already recorded 30 centimeters (11.8 inches) in 24 hours, while other cities, such as Teresopolis and Mage, added more than 22 cm, according to official estimates.

The National Institute of Meteorology had predicted a severe storm, particularly in Rio, with rainfall of 20 cm a day from Friday through Sunday. Normally, the area receives 14 cm of rain in all of March.

Rio authorities had declared an administrative holiday on Friday as the storm approached and urged people to stay home.

The storm follows a record heat wave, when humidity helped send the heat index soaring above 62 degrees Celsius (143 degrees Fahrenheit).


AFP


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