Floods force over 18,000 people from homes in southern Brazil

Anadolu Agency – Photo by João Paulo Amaro: floods in Iraí, Rio Grande do Sul

SÃO PAULO – The Brazilian government has officially recognised declarations of a state of disaster by two cities, as well as 124 municipalities’ state of emergency, in Brazil’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul.

Nearly 18,400 have now been forced from their homes, and although the rains have eased in and around the state, some 157 municipalities have now been affected, with 131 declaring a state of emergency, the G1 news portal reported.

The official recognition of the natural disaster means emergency federal funds can be released to local governments; the state has asked for R$19 million (US$8.5 million).

Of those displaced, 1,321 have been given emergency shelter in public buildings and just over 17,000 have been accommodated by relatives or friends.

The cities of Iraí and Barra do Guarita, which declared a state of disaster, have been particularly badly hit by a combination of heavy rains and the Uruguay River bursting its banks: the river rose fast with little warning and is reported to be have exceeded its regular level by up to 20 metres in some places.

“The waters just came so quickly. The river was rising by 50cm an hour at one point. People didn’t have time to get anything from their houses,” Laís Cerutti Scortegagna, a journalist in the devastated city of Iraí, told the Anadolu Agency (AA).

“The last time the water reached this level, meaning well over people’s roofs in some cases, was in 1983. However, back then it took four days for the waters to reach these levels and this year it took barely a day: it’s a complete mess and people have lost everything,” Cerutti said.

– Government help sorely needed

Locals say floods are common in the region, but that this time around the government decided to open up three dams on the Uruguay River above the city, meaning it took the full brunt of the excess water.

“Thankfully, local people have been extremely supportive and generous with their donations – but soon people will need to rebuilding and replacing domestic applications and such, and that’s when the government’s help will be really needed,” the Iraí journalist added.

Other rivers in the region have also swollen far beyond what is normally expected.

In some places, including in Iraí, levels have already subsided and some residents have been able to return home to start the clean-up process.

The government set up emergency meetings with the local government representatives, who have been asked to provide detailed reconstruction plans for their areas to expedite the arrival of federal funds.

Last Friday President Dilma Rousseff visited the area and announced that R$25 million (US$11.3 million) of government funds would be made available for flood-hit areas for emergency measures.

Local media attributed the flood-inducing rains to the El Niño phenomenon, which at this time of the year is characterised by sharp, heavy downpours in the south of Brazil.

– Rain for Rio ahead of World Cup final

Thursday also saw heavy rain in Rio de Janeiro, which is set to host the crunch World Cup final between Germany and Argentina on Sunday, and officials placed the city of a state of alert.

Rio’s two main airports are susceptible to the city’s changeable weather, and cancelled and delayed flights are commonplace. Santos Dumont airport, which handles many of the city’s domestic flights, was closed for takeoff on Thursday afternoon, and fans travelling between Brasília, São Paulo and Rio are expected to face delays in the coming hours.

However, the forecast for Sunday’s World Cup final at the city’s world-famous Maracanã Stadium is looking better: partly cloudy with a temperature of around 24°C.

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