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Brazil assesses cost of worst floods on record and there is little hope the waters will recede soon | Brazil


Death toll in southern Rio Grande do Sul state rises daily as authorities plan four ‘tent cities’ for 77,000 displaced people

Sun May 19, 2024 6:30 a.m. EDT

Three weeks after one of Brazil’s worst floods on record hit Brazil’s southernmost state, killing 155 people and forcing 540,000 from their homes, experts warned that water levels would further at least two weeks to drop.

The death toll in Rio Grande do Sul continues to rise every day, and more than 77,000 displaced people remain in public shelters, prompting the state government to announce plans to build four “cities of temporary tents to accommodate them.

On Friday, state governor Eduardo Leite said reconstruction costs would be “much higher” than the 19 billion reais (£2.9 billion) he had initially estimated.

Several cities are still under water, including the state capital, Porto Alegre, where 46 of the 96 neighborhoods have been flooded. Even residents of non-flooded areas had to endure days without electricity or drinking water.

Of the state’s seven major rivers, five are still above peak water levels, and experts say there is little hope the waters will recede anytime soon.

“These rains were typical of the climate crisis: very intense, with a large volume of water concentrated in a short period of time,” said Anderson Ruhoff, professor at the Institute for Hydraulic Research (IPH) at the Federal University of Rio. Grande do Sul.

In just three days, the state recorded the amount of rain normally recorded in four months.

The storm caused the Taquari, Caí, Pardo, Jacuí, Sinos and Gravataí rivers to overflow, all of which flow into the Guaíba, a huge body of water that runs through Porto Alegre.

In just 48 hours, the water level of the Guaíba rose to more than 5 meters, overwhelming drainage dikes and floodwaters poured into the city. The levee containment systems failed to contain the water.

The stadiums of the region’s two biggest football teams, Grêmio and Internacional, found themselves underwater, forcing matches to be delayed.

Since then, the rains have eased, but flooding persists – and water levels are likely to remain high for several days.

Rodrigo Paiva, another IPH professor, said that although water was gradually flowing out of the Guaíba, more and more water was coming upstream.

“There is still a significant volume stored in the river floodplains above the Guaíba,” he said. “That’s why it releases water very slowly,” Paiva explained.

He and Ruhoff estimate that in the best case scenario – that is, if it doesn’t rain much more – the flooding will last at least until the end of May.

“There’s still a lot of water to drain,” Ruhoff said. “At this time of year we have rain every five or seven days, which is what is happening now: cold fronts hit the state and cause rain, which delays the drop in water levels . »

Meanwhile, a heat wave over central Brazil prevented the cold front from moving north, causing it to stagnate over the south.

The disaster prompted Jeferson Tenorio, a famous novelist born in Rio de Janeiro but raised in Porto Alegre, to declare that “Rio Grande do Sul as we knew it will never exist again.”

Tenorio, the 2021 winner of Brazil’s most prestigious Brazilian literature prize, was fortunate to live in an area less affected by flooding, but he warned that the long-term impact of the disaster went far beyond the physical damage.

“The state we knew will no longer exist,” he said. “Virtually everyone has been affected in one way or another: physically, materially or psychologically. (Rio Grande do Sul) can no longer return to what it was before.

News Source : amp.theguardian.com
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