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Rains return to flooded southern Brazil, interrupting rescues


People who evacuated their flooded homes rest in a shelter amid heavy rain in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, May 8, 2024.
People who evacuated their flooded homes rest in a shelter amid heavy rain in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, May 8, 2024.

Authorities interrupted rescue efforts in flood-ravaged southern Brazil on Wednesday amid more rain and the risk of lightning and stiff winds that threaten to exacerbate a catastrophe that has already killed at least 100 people and left more than 163,000 seeking shelter.

The floods that began last week, caused by unusually heavy rains, have destroyed highways and bridges in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, which borders Uruguay and Argentina.

"We've lost everything," said Adriana Freitas in state capital Porto Alegre, where the Guaiba River burst its banks and inundated city streets. "It's sad when we see the city, our house, in the middle of the water. It seems like it's over, that the world has ended."

At least 128 people are still missing, the state's civil defense authority said, urging people living close to the Patos lagoon south of Porto Alegre to leave their homes immediately.

Army soldiers used amphibious armored cars to rescue people from flooding in Canoas, just north of the city, where the waters have reached a depth of some 3 meters and the streets can only be navigated by boat.

A Reuters journalist saw one team of local volunteer rescuers find about 20 dogs stranded on the second floor of an abandoned factory, offering food to those too fierce to take aboard.

Porto Alegre city hall warned such civilian rescuers on Wednesday afternoon to halt their operations, given the forecast for rain, lightning storms and winds exceeding 80 kph.

In the Porto Alegre suburb of Eldorado do Sul, tractor driver Daniel Farias said he had spent days ferrying survivors to safety, carrying whole families out on his wheel loader, including pets.

"I have been living in this tractor with my children, to survive this calamity. We believe it will pass," an exhausted Farias told Reuters. He said he had slept little and eaten less.

Risk of more floods

Brazil's national center for natural disasters warned that the southern area of Rio Grande do Sul state was under "high risk" of more flooding, with rainfall expected to restart after a brief hiatus.

Weather forecaster MetSul said in a statement the region could face more "very large" floods "of serious proportions."

In neighboring Uruguay, storms and flooding have closed highways and left nearly 800 people displaced and over 3,000 people without power, the government said.

In Brazil, many residents in and around Porto Alegre, a city of 1.3 million people, have been living in darkness after power companies cut off electricity for security reasons.

They have faced shortages of products, especially drinking water. Supermarket managers said there was no access for supply trucks or employees trying to get to work. Mineral water sales were restricted in some supermarkets.

Volunteer rescue operations after dark in Porto Alegre were also hampered by looting, with police providing security using boats and even Jet Skis.

"We are not going out to rescue people at night without an armed escort, because it has become too risky," volunteer Lauro Strogulski told Reuters.

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    Reuters is a news agency founded in 1851 and owned by the Thomson Reuters Corporation based in Toronto, Canada. One of the world's largest wire services, it provides financial news as well as international coverage in over 16 languages to more than 1000 newspapers and 750 broadcasters around the globe.