‘It’s going to be worse’: Brazil braces for more pain amid record flooding

Overpowering floods and mudslides caused by torrential rains are continuing to sweep southern Brazil, killing at least 56 people and forcing tens of thousands out of their homes, the government said.

As well as raising the death toll on Saturday, the country’s civil defence agency said rising water levels in the state of Rio Grande do Sul were straining dams and threatening the metropolis of Porto Alegre.

Triggered by storms that began on Monday, the flooding is only expected to get worse, local authorities said, as rescuers scoured the ruins of washed-out homes, bridges, and roads for missing people.

“Forget everything you’ve seen, it’s going to be much worse in the metropolitan region,” Governor Eduardo Leite said on Friday as the state’s streets were submerged.

The flooding, Brazil’s worst in 80 years, has so far affected at least 265 municipalities in Rio Grande do Sul, according to the southernmost state’s civil defence department.

It has injured at least 74 people, displaced more than 24,000, and left 350,000 with some form of property damage.

Residents in several cities and towns have been left completely cut off from the world, with no electricity or telephone access, while others have been forced to abandon their livestock.

Five days in, as the rainfall shows no signs of letting up, four of the state’s dams are at risk of collapsing, creating the risk of a new “emergency situation”, according to civil defence officials.

Climatologist Francisco Eliseu Aquino said the devastating storms were the result of a “disastrous cocktail” of global warming and the El Nino weather phenomenon.

South America’s largest country has recently experienced a string of extreme weather events, including a cyclone in September that killed at least 31 people.

Aquino said the region’s particular geography meant it was often confronted by the effects of tropical and polar air masses colliding – but these events have “intensified due to climate change”.

And when they coincide with El Nino, a periodic warming of the waters in the tropical Pacific, the atmosphere becomes more unstable, he said.