Torrential rains and winds from an extratropical cyclone have claimed at least 21 lives in southern Brazil, officials said on Tuesday, warning that further flooding could occur.
It is the latest in a series of weather disasters to hit Brazil and the deadliest ever recorded in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Governor Eduardo Leite told a news conference.
“We were deeply saddened to learn that as the waters receded…another 15 bodies were found in Mucum town, bringing the death toll to 21,” he said.
Nearly 6,000 people have been forced from their homes by storms that began Monday, dumping hail and nearly 12 inches of rain across the state in less than 24 hours and triggering flooding and landslides , officials said.
In Mucum, a small town of 5,000 people, hundreds of people had to be rescued from their roofs as the Taquari River flooded more than 85 percent of the town, according to local news site GZH.
“There are still people missing. The death toll could increase,” Mayor Mateus Trojan told Radio Gaucha.
“The town of Mucum as we knew it no longer exists.”
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva sent a message of solidarity to those affected, saying the federal government is “ready to help”.
Among the victims are a man killed by electrocution in the town of Passo Fundo and a couple whose car was swept away by a river as they tried to cross a bridge in the town of Ibiraiaras.
The storms hit 67 municipalities in total, affecting more than 52,000 people, authorities said.
The neighboring state of Santa Catarina also recorded one death, according to the G1 news site.
Hundreds of firefighters as well as members of the military police and civil protection were dispatched as part of the relief operations, with helicopters being sent to reach areas cut off by the floods.
“There are a lot of isolated families, a lot of people still in danger,” said Communication Minister Paulo Pimenta, who plans to visit the region on Wednesday with a government delegation.
With more rain expected from Thursday, authorities are warning that further flooding is possible.
It is the latest in a string of deadly weather events to hit Brazil that experts say are likely to be made worse by climate change.
Uncontrolled urbanization and irregular settlements built into hillsides also make such disasters deadlier, officials say.
An estimated 9.5 million of Brazil’s 203 million people live in areas at high risk of flooding or landslides.
In June, another cyclone claimed 13 lives in Rio Grande do Sul and forced thousands from their homes.
And in February, 65 people died in landslides caused by record flooding in the southeastern resort of Sao Sebastiao, on the coast of Sao Paulo state.