Brazil flood death toll hits 107, one victim calls the scene a “war scenario”

By May 9, 2024

São Paulo, Brazil – The number of dead has risen to 107 in rain-battered Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s southernmost state. Severe flooding in the area has impacted more than 1.5 million people, left 230,000 without homes, and injured 327. One hundred and thirty people also remain missing. 

The rain took a break on Monday and Tuesday, but started up heavily again on Wednesday. Rivers in the area — including the Guaíba River that flows through the state’s capital, Porto Alegre, remain high and entire neighborhoods in many cities are under water. In Eldorado do Sul, about an hour’s drive from the state’s capital, city hall ordered the complete evacuation of the town’s 42,000 residents.

“It’s a war scenario,” said Larissa Cunha, a resident of Porto Alegre. Cunha lives with her parents, 68 and 66, on the seventh floor of a nine-story building. She told Brazil Reports the water reached the second floor over the weekend. “It was scary, the water just wouldn’t stop rising. We were very scared,” she said.

Her family was rescued by boat, with the help of volunteers, and they went to a relative’s house in an area of the city with less flooding. “We are in a safe place, where the water has not risen much. But the scenario is bleak. Water covering the roofs of houses, cars and furniture being swept away. You can only get around by boat or jet ski in many neighborhoods,” she said. 

Cunha hasn’t left the house for two days, afraid of what she’ll find on the streets of Porto Alegre. 

Like Cunha, there are thousands of people stranded in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. More than 600,000 homes are without water and more than 454,000 do not have electricity. And traveling within the state is extremely difficult, with at least 142 highways blocked.

85% of cities in Rio Grande do Sul were hit by heavy rains. Image courtesy of Ricardo Stuckert/PR

The airport and bus station in Porto Alegre were flooded and are closed – flights in the capital have been canceled until at least May 30. Therefore, victim rescues have mainly been carried out by helicopter, boats, and jet skis. The work is carried out by municipal, state and federal teams, including the Brazilian Army, in addition to support from neighboring countries, such as Uruguay.

Governor of Rio Grande do Sul Eduardo Leite classified the floods as the “worst tragedy in the state’s history.” 

On social media, many Brazilians are comparing the situation with Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans, Louisiana in 2005, and the tsunami that rocked parts of Asia in 2004. “It is a terrifying situation,” said Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who has already visited the state twice and promised unlimited resources to help victims and rebuild cities.

More rain in the forecast

With entire cities underwater, Rio Grande do Sul still can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. The advance of a cold front associated with an extratropical cyclone will keep the weather unstable in the state for the next few days, say meteorologists. 

“We are experiencing heavy rain with lightning in a large part of the state, a situation that is still worrying due to the accumulation of rain in recent days. Furthermore, due to the strong pressure gradient caused by the cyclone, strong winds are also expected,” said meteorologist Stefanie Tozzo from ClimaTempo.

In Porto Alegre, for example, the rain increased throughout Wednesday afternoon and forced rescue work to be suspended due to the risk of lightning and strong winds, which could reach 100 km/h.

Entire cities are underwater in Rio Grande do Sul. Image courtesy of MST-RS

Solidarity chain

The tragedy in Rio Grande do Sul generated a national commotion and began a chain of solidarity among Brazilians. Hundreds of people and institutions volunteered to go to the state and help rescue people and animals. Those who cannot go there have helped by donating money, clothing, hygiene products, food and, most importantly, water.

“We don’t have water to drink, wash our hands or brush our teeth,” Lucas Soares, a resident of Porto Alegre, told Brazil Reports. “What we need most today is water.”. 

Soares’ house was not hit by the flood, but he is helping to bring supplies to the victims on a friend’s boat. “We are taking eight people in turns to bring water and food to those in more isolated areas,” he said. 

Large companies, soccer teams, entertainers and influencers have also made donations to Rio Grande do Sul. For example, YouTuber Felipe Neto raised R$ 4.8 million (USD $960,000) to buy 220 water purifiers with an advanced technology that allows the production of 1.5 million liters of drinking water per day.

The purifiers arrived in Porto Alegre on Wednesday on a Brazilian Air Force plane, and will be distributed to 220 cities across the state. 

There are hundreds of other examples of Brazilian solidarity in times of crisis. “Every day, we see trucks full of donations arriving here. It’s a breath of hope. But we still need a lot. Many people lost everything they had,” said Soares.

Brazilians are mobilized to help victims with donations to Rio Grande do Sul. Image courtesy of Joédson Alves/Agência Brasil