21 dead as powerful cyclone ransacks villages town in southern Brazil

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At least 21 people were reported to have died in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil after a cyclone brought torrential rains and powerful winds, according to the officials, who issued further warnings about floods. 

Governor Eduardo Leite told a news conference that it was the deadliest ever in the history of the state, in a string of weather disasters to hit the country.

He said: “We were deeply saddened to get the news that as the water recedes… 15 more bodies were found in the town of Mucum, bringing the death toll to 21.” 

Close to 6,000 people were forced from their homes by the storms, which started Monday, dumping hail and more than 300 millimetres (nearly 12 inches) of rain on the state in less than 24 hours and triggering floods and landslides, according to officials.

In Mucum, a small town of 5,000 people, hundreds had to be rescued from their rooftops as the Taquari River flooded more than 85% of the city, according to local news site GZH.

“There are still people missing. The death toll might climb higher,” Mayor Mateus Trojan told Radio Gaucha, adding that “the town of Mucum as we knew it no longer exists.”

Aerial view of the area affected by an extratropical cyclone in Muçum, Rio Grande do Sul State, Brazil, taken on September 5, 2023. — AFP
Aerial view of the area affected by an extratropical cyclone in Muçum, Rio Grande do Sul State, Brazil, taken on September 5, 2023. — AFP

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva sent a message of solidarity with those affected, saying the federal government is “ready to help.”

Over 50,000 affected

The victims included a man killed by an electrical shock 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 all, affecting more than 52,000 people, authorities said.

The neighbouring state of Santa Catarina also recorded one death, according to news site G1.

Hundreds of firefighters as well as military police and civil defense personnel were dispatched as part of rescue operations, with helicopters sent to reach areas cut off by flooding.

“There are many isolated families, many people still at risk,” said Communications Minister Paulo Pimenta, who is planning to travel to the region with a government delegation Wednesday.

With more rain forecast from Thursday, authorities warn more flooding is possible.

It is the latest in a string of deadly weather events to hit Brazil, which experts say are likely being made worse by climate change.

Unchecked urbanisation and irregular housing built on hillsides are also making 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 left 13 dead in Rio Grande do Sul and forced thousands of people from their homes.

In February, 65 people died in landslides caused by record flooding in the southeastern resort town of Sao Sebastiao, on the coast of Sao Paulo state.

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