Tuesday, November 25, 2008

More of that so called freaky weather chaos lah..

54,000 evacuated in Brazil flooding

At least 84 people have been killed and more than 54,000 forced to flee by flooding from heavy rain that has pounded southern Brazil for nearly two months, regional Civil Defence officials said Tuesday.

With the latest figures released Tuesday the death toll climbed from 67 to 84, and the number of evacuees from 52,000 to more than 54,000.

The region faces "the worst weather tragedy in history," Santa Catarina Governor Luiz Henrique da Silveira told reporters on Monday.

Making matters worse, torrential rain hitting the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina actually has intensified in recent days, officials said.

Civil Defence workers, firefighters, soldiers and police across the area have been busy for weeks rescuing people trapped by the flooding.

Civil Defence officials also said the death toll could rise considerably as casualty reports come in from rural areas.

More than 1.5 million people have been affected by the heavy rains, and eight cities remained cut off by waters and blocked roads. The region has been under a state of emergency since Saturday.

The most heavily affected towns are Ilhota (population 22,000, 18 dead) and the tourist town of Blumenau (population 297,000, 20 dead) where many German immigrants settled.

The head of Santa Catarina Civil Defence operations, Marcio Alves, said that most people were killed by landslides. "Most deaths happen when the rain stops and people go out believing that all is well," he said.

Another Civil Defence official, Robert Guimaraes, said "nearly 80 percent of the region is under water," though levels were dropping.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has ordered six military helicopters and 350 soldiers to the area to help in relief operations.

The latest flooding resulted from freak rains on Sunday that delivered a month's amount of precipitation in just five hours.

Boats were the only means of transport in many areas, and witnesses spoke of the bodies of dozens of drowned cows littering the road near Blumenau.

"We heard people crying for help. We also heard explosions. With the ground saturated, several gas pipelines exploded," one Santa Catarina resident forced to leave her home, Beatriz Heusi, 30, told AFP by telephone.

More than 160,000 people were without electricity and fresh water supplies were cut to several towns.

Other southern Brazilian states, principally Rio Grande do Sul and Espirito Santo were affected to a lesser extent by flooding and mudslides.