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Brazil floods: Forecast to worsen in south

ELDORADO DO SUL, Brazil (AP) — More rain began falling Saturday in Brazil’s already flooded state of Rio Grande do Sul, where many of the remaining people are poor people with limited ability to travel to less dangerous areas.

More than 15 centimeters (nearly six inches) of rain could fall over the weekend and will likely worsen flooding, according to a Friday afternoon bulletin from Brazil’s national meteorological institute. Winds are also likely to intensify and water levels to rise in and around the Patos Lagoon near the state capital, Porto Alegre.

Residents rest in a makeshift shelter for people whose homes were flooded by heavy rains, in Canoas, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, Wednesday, May 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Carlos Macedo)

By Saturday afternoon, heavy rain was falling in northern and central areas of the state, and water levels were rising.

Carlos Sampaio, 62, lives in a low-income community next to the stadium of the Gremio football club in Porto Alegre. His two-story home also serves as a sports bar.

Even if the first floor floods, he said he won’t leave, partly out of fear of looters in his high-crime neighborhood, where police carry assault rifles as they patrol flooded streets. But Sampaio has nowhere to go either, he told The Associated Press.

“I analyze how safe I am and I know my belongings are not safe at all,” Sampaio said. “As long as I can fight for what is mine, within the limits of my ability to not let myself be exposed, I will fight.”

At least 136 people have died in floods since the start of last week, and 125 others are missing, local authorities announced on Friday. The number of people displaced from their homes by the torrential rains has exceeded 400,000, including 70,000 sheltering in gymnasiums, schools and other temporary locations.

Gas cylinders float in floodwaters at a gas distribution center after heavy rains in Canoas, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, Friday, May 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Gas cylinders float in floodwaters at a gas distribution center after heavy rains in Canoas, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, Friday, May 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

“I arrived here on Monday and lost my apartment to the flood,” Matheus Vicari, a 32-year-old Uber driver, said at a shelter where he resides with his young son. “I haven’t spent much time here. I try to go out and think about something else.

Some residents of Rio Grande do Sul state have found refuge in second homes, including Alexandra Zanela, co-owner of a content agency in Porto Alegre.

Zanela and her partner volunteered when the flooding started, but chose to move after frequent power and water outages. She went to Capao da Canoa, a seaside town – so far spared from the floods – where her partner’s family has a summer residence.

“We took a ride with my sister-in-law, took our two cats, my mother and one of her friends and arrived here safely. We left the chaos of Porto Alegre,” Zanela, 42, told the AP by telephone. “It is very clear that those who have the privilege to leave are in a much safer position, and that those who live in the poorest neighborhoods of Porto Alegre have no choice. »

Volunteers push a wheelchair carrying a resident evacuated from an area flooded by heavy rain, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Tuesday, May 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Volunteers push a wheelchair carrying a resident evacuated from an area flooded by heavy rain, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Tuesday, May 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Weather conditions in South America are affected by the El Niño climate phenomenon, a natural event that periodically warms the surface waters of the equatorial Pacific. In Brazil, El Niño has historically caused droughts in the north and intense rains in the south, and this year its effects were particularly severe.

Scientists say extreme weather events are occurring more frequently due to climate change, caused by the burning of fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming, and overwhelmingly agree that the world must significantly reduce the burning of coal, oil and gas to limit global warming. .

But social policy responses are also needed, said Natalie Unterstell, president of the Talanoa Institute, a climate policy think tank based in Rio de Janeiro.

Chickens stand on the roof of a flooded house after heavy rains in Canoas, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, Friday, May 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Chickens stand on the roof of a flooded house after heavy rains in Canoas, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, Friday, May 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

“To provide an effective response to climate change in Brazil, we must fight inequality,” Unterstell said.

In Brazil, the poor often live in homes built with less durable materials like wood and in unregulated areas more vulnerable to damage from extreme weather, such as low-lying areas or on steep slopes.

“We cannot say that the worst is over,” Rio Grande do Sul Governor Eduardo Leite said on social media on Friday. The day before, he estimated that 19 billion reais ($3.7 billion) would be needed to rebuild the state.

The extent of the damage could be comparable to that of Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans in 2005, Sergio Vale, chief economist at MB Associates, wrote in a note Friday.

Residents rest in a gymnasium transformed into a shelter for people whose homes were flooded by heavy rains, in Canoas, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, May 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Carlos Macedo)

Residents rest in a gymnasium transformed into a shelter for people whose homes were flooded by heavy rains, in Canoas, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, May 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Carlos Macedo)

Rio Grande do Sul has the sixth highest gross domestic product per capita among Brazil’s 26 states and the Federal District, according to the National Statistics Institute. Many of the state’s residents are descended from Italian and German immigrants.

“In the popular imagination, the population of Rio Grande do Sul is considered white and wealthy, but that is not the reality,” said Marília Closs, a researcher at the CIPO Platform, a climate think tank. “It’s very important to dispel this fiction, because it’s constructed with a political goal” of erasing black and poor residents, she said.

In Canoas, one of the hardest-hit towns in the state, Paulo Cezar Wolf’s small wooden house was completely submerged, along with all his belongings. The truck driver, who is black, now lives in the back of a loaned truck with six of his neighbors, all of whom cook, eat and sleep there.

People who lost their homes to flooding live in a truck trailer in Canoas, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, Friday, May 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

People who lost their homes to flooding live in a truck trailer in Canoas, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, Friday, May 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Wolf, 54, is considering leaving the rural area where he has lived since childhood, but he has nowhere to go and doesn’t want to leave his four adult children behind.

“It’s too late for someone like me to move anywhere else,” said Wolf, wearing a donated sweatshirt as he stood on a highway.

The Meteorological Institute predicts that the arrival of a cold, dry air mass will reduce the risk of rain from Monday. But it also means temperatures are expected to drop sharply, reaching near freezing by Wednesday. This makes hypothermia a concern for those who are wet and lacking power.

Celebrities, including model Gisele Bündchen from Rio Grande do Sul, shared links and information on where and how to donate to help flood victims. Churches, businesses, schools and ordinary citizens across the country have stepped up to show their support.

Volunteers gather to help residents evacuate an area flooded by heavy rain, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Tuesday, May 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Volunteers gather to help residents evacuate an area flooded by heavy rain, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Tuesday, May 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

The UN refugee agency is distributing blankets and mattresses. It is sending additional items, such as emergency shelters, cooking sets, blankets, solar lamps and hygiene kits, from its stocks in northern Brazil and elsewhere in the region.

On Thursday, the Brazilian federal government announced a package of 50.9 billion reais ($10 billion) for employees, beneficiaries of social programs, state and municipalities, businesses and rural producers in Rio Grande do Sul.

On the same day, the Brazilian Air Force parachuted more than two tons of food and water into areas inaccessible due to blocked roads. The navy sent three ships to help those affected, including the Atlantic MultiPurpose Aircraft Ship, which it said is considered the largest warship in Latin America. He arrived on the state’s coast on Saturday.

The United States has sent $20,000 for personal hygiene kits and cleaning supplies and will provide an additional $100,000 in humanitarian assistance through existing regional programs, the United States’ national security spokesperson said Friday. the White House, John Kirby.

Residents rest in a makeshift shelter for people whose homes were flooded by heavy rains, in Canoas, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, Wednesday, May 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Carlos Macedo)

Residents rest in a makeshift shelter for people whose homes were flooded by heavy rains, in Canoas, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, Wednesday, May 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Carlos Macedo)

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Eléonore Hughes reported from Rio de Janeiro.

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