Death Toll Rises to 39 in Deadly Floods Sweeping Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

Heavy rainfall in Brazil's Rio Grande do Sul state has caused devastating floods, claiming 39 lives and displacing 24,000 residents. Rescue efforts continue, with 68 people still missing, amid fears of further dam collapses and landslides.

Nitish Verma
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Deadly Floods in Brazil's Rio Grande do Sul Kill 39, Displace Thousands

Death Toll Rises to 39 in Deadly Floods Sweeping Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

Heavy rainfall in Brazil's southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul has resulted in devastating floods, claiming the lives of at least 39 people and displacing over 24,000 residents. As rescue efforts continue, 68 people remain missing, and fears of further dam collapses and landslides persist.

Why this matters: This disaster highlights the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events due to human-caused climate change, which can have devastating consequences for communities and ecosystems worldwide. The impact of such events can also exacerbate existing social and economic inequalities, making it essential to address the root causes of climate change and develop effective disaster response strategies.

The heavy rains, which began on Monday and are expected to last through Saturday, have caused widespread destruction across nearly half of the state's 497 cities. Streets have turned into rivers, roads and bridges have been destroyed, and landslides have been triggered. A small hydroelectric power plant's dam structure partially collapsed, and another dam in the city of Bento Goncalves is at risk of collapsing, prompting authorities to order nearby residents to evacuate.

Rio Grande do Sul Governor Eduardo Leite described the situation as "probably the most critical case the state has ever recorded." President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva traveled to the state to visit affected areas and discuss rescue efforts with the governor. The president promised that "there will be no lack of human or material resources" to "minimize the suffering this extreme event ... is causing in the state".

Rescuers and soldiers are working tirelessly to free families trapped in their homes, many of whom are stranded on rooftops to escape rising waters. Federal authorities have made available 12 aircraft, 45 vehicles, 12 boats, and 626 soldiers to assist with rescue efforts. Entire communities have been completely cut off due to destroyed bridges and blocked roads, leaving towns without telephone and internetstory.

The flooding has surpassed the historic 1941 deluge, with water levels reaching their highest in nearly 150 years in some cities. Isolete Neumann, a 58-year-old resident of Lajeado, described the scene: "People were making barricades in front of hospitals with sand and gravel. It felt like a horror movie."

This is the fourth environmental disaster to strike the region in the past year, following floods in July, September, and November 2023 that claimed a total of 75 lives. Experts say that extreme weather events like this are becoming more frequent due to human-caused climate change. The weather across South America is also being influenced by the climate phenomenon El Niño, which historically causes droughts in the north and intense rains.

As the heavy rains persist, the main Guaiba river is expected to rise to four meters (13 feet) on Friday, posing a risk of further flooding. Hundreds of thousands of people have been left without access to drinking water, and classes have been suspended statewide. Governor Leite, while devastated, remains steadfast in his commitment to the people of Rio Grande do Sul, vowing not to falter in the face of this worst disaster.

Key Takeaways

  • At least 39 people killed, 24,000 displaced in Rio Grande do Sul floods.
  • 68 people still missing, fears of further dam collapses and landslides.
  • Heavy rains, expected to last until Saturday, caused widespread destruction.
  • Floods surpass 1941 deluge, water levels highest in nearly 150 years.
  • Experts link extreme weather event to human-caused climate change.