A Night of Torrential Rain: Brazil’s Struggle with Floods and Displacement

Last Updated: June 16, 2024By

A Night of Torrential Rain: Brazil’s Struggle with Floods and Displacement

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On the rainy night of May 3rd, people started arriving at the Lutheran University of Brazil in Canoas. This city, located in the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, had been battered by heavy rains for a week. Rivers overflowed, homes were flooded, and many had to leave everything behind to find safety.

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A Growing Crisis

Three weeks later, the university became a refuge for thousands, marking it as the largest camp for displaced people amidst this growing crisis. The floods affected over 2.3 million people, with more than 580,000 forced to leave their homes. Nearly 70,000 of these people now depend on shelters. The authorities are working hard to help, but they estimate that it might take months, even years, for life to return to normal. Out of the 497 municipalities in Rio Grande do Sul, over 90% have declared a state of emergency or disaster.

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Life at the Shelter

In Canoas, the situation is dire. Over 100,000 of the city’s 347,000 residents have been displaced. Walking through the university, you see makeshift tents, families with pets in every corner, kids playing, long bathroom lines, and people praying in the hallways.

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Juan Romero, a 54-year-old carpenter from Venezuela, arrived on May 4th with his nieces and nephews. He had only managed to grab his important documents before his home was flooded. “I’ve seen things no one should go through. People searching for refuge, maybe even dying,” he shares.

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Tales of Survival

Claudia Duarte, 59, moved to the second floor of her house, hoping the water wouldn’t reach there. But by the time she was rescued, it was waist-deep. “It was like a sea outside, covering roofs. I even recorded a goodbye video,” she recalls.

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In Eldorado do Sul, almost 98% of the city was flooded, pushing nearly everyone to nearby towns. The receding water has turned streets into junkyards, with piles of ruined belongings everywhere. On the highway into Porto Alegre, people are living in cars and improvised tents, reminiscent of a war zone. One man has been living in his car with his five dogs for weeks because shelters wouldn’t take them all.

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Community Efforts

In Porto Alegre, William Santos, a 29-year-old HR analyst, uses a small boat to help his neighbors in the flooded Serraria area. Health workers have vaccinated him and other volunteers against diseases from the contaminated water. Those whose homes aren’t flooded have been without electricity for almost three weeks, relying on army trucks for transport and to access basic needs.

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Unprecedented Flooding

The region has seen floods before, but nothing like this. Vagner Thier, a 39-year-old security guard, says the water never reached his house until now. “The view turned into endless water. It’s scary. I’m thinking of moving,” he says.

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In the countryside, entire districts were wiped out, reminiscent of a hurricane’s aftermath. Public health expert Carlos Machado explains that the retreating waters have left behind contaminated mud and debris, worsening sanitary conditions and causing a surge in illnesses.

Climate Change Impact

Marcio Astrini from the NGO Climate Observatory calls this a climate justice crisis. Low-income areas, least responsible for global warming, have suffered the most. Rio Grande do Sul has faced droughts, crop failures, and now the worst floods. He urges Brazilian politicians to take environmental issues seriously and learn from this disaster.

Economic Aftermath

The economic impact is still unclear, but it has hit both small businesses and major industries hard. The industrial sector estimates that 94% of economic activity in affected regions has been disrupted. They are asking the federal government for significant aid.

Future Uncertainty

Eldorado do Sul’s mayor, Ernani Gonçalves, whose own home was flooded, now lives in his office. He worries about the future, with thousands needing food, housing, and basic supplies. “We’re dealing with massive needs and relying on donations. How will we pay for it? I don’t know,” he admits.

The flooding in Brazil’s southern state is a stark reminder of the devastating effects of climate change and the urgent need for comprehensive disaster prevention and response strategies. The stories of survival and resilience amidst this crisis highlight the strength of communities facing unimaginable challenges.

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