At least 44 dead and 56 missing in downpours in Brazil

BRASILIA: Torrential rains in northeastern Brazil have left at least 44 dead and dozens missing, the government announced on Sunday (May 29th), as rescuers took advantage of a lull in the downpours to search for survivors.

“We have registered 44 dead, 56 missing, 25 injured, 3,957 homeless and 533 displaced,” Regional Development Minister Daniel Ferreira told a press conference in Recife, the capital of the hard-hit state of northeast of Pernambuco.

The disaster is the latest in a recent string of deadly landslides and floods triggered by extreme weather in Brazil.

The death toll had risen by 34 since Saturday, with at least 28 killed in landslides as heavy rain caused rivers to overflow and torrents of mud washed away everything in their path.

Authorities warned heavy rain was expected to continue on Sunday, but the storm subsided in the morning.

As the weather lifted, some 1,200 people resumed search and rescue work, state officials said, but Ferreira urged caution.

“Although it has stopped raining now, we expect heavy rain for the next few days,” he said.

“So the first thing is to maintain self-protection measures.”

Between Friday evening and Saturday morning, the volume of precipitation reached 70% of what was forecast for the whole month of May in parts of Recife.

‘THE TRAGEDY’

Footage released in local media showed rescue workers and volunteers clearing piles of debris in Jardim Monteverde, on the border between Recife and the municipality of Jaboatao dos Guararapes, where 19 people died in a landslide on Saturday morning which ravaged precarious houses.

Luiz Estevao Aguiar, who lives in another municipality, lost 11 relatives in the disaster, he told TV Globo.

“My sister, my brother-in-law, 11 people in my family died. It was difficult… I didn’t expect this,” he said in tears.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Sunday he would travel to Recife on Monday after the “tragedy”.

Over the past year, hundreds of Brazilians have died in floods and landslides triggered by torrential rains.

In February, more than 230 people were killed in the city of Petropolis, the summer capital of the then Brazilian empire in the 19th century, in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

Early last month, 14 more people were killed by floods and landslides in the state.

Experts say Brazil’s rainy season showers are increased by La Nina – the cyclical cooling of the Pacific Ocean – and by climate change.

Because a warmer atmosphere holds more water, global warming increases the risk and intensity of flooding from extreme rainfall.

The chances of heavy rains are increased by topography and poor construction in slums built in steep areas.

According to meteorologist Estael Sias, of the MetSul agency, the heavy rains hitting Pernambuco and, to a lesser extent, four other northeastern states, are the product of a typical seasonal phenomenon called “eastern waves”.

He explained that these are areas of “atmospheric disturbance” that move from Africa to the coastal region of northeast Brazil.

“In other parts of the Atlantic this instability forms hurricanes, but in northeast Brazil it has the potential for lots of rain and even thunderstorms,” he said.

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