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Brazilian city underwater pictures


Anderson da Silva Pantaleão was at the snack bar he owns when clay-colored water began to appear on the streets of the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre on Friday. Soon, it burst into his ground floor shop. At 9pm, the water was up to my waist.

“Then the fear started to set in,” he said. “You’re just trying not to drown.”

He rushed to his second-floor neighbor’s house, where he took refuge for the next three nights, sharing a ration of water, cheese and sausage with two other men. Members of the group took turns sleeping, worried that another flood might catch them off guard in the dead of night.

On Monday, as water began to flood the second floor, they imagined the worst. A warship later arrived and rescued Mr. Pantaleon. A day later, despite heavy rain, Pantaleon tried to return on a rescue boat to find his friends who were still missing or trapped.

“I couldn’t leave them there,” he said. “We’re running out of water, we’re running out of food.”

Brazil is dealing with one of the worst floods in recent history. Torrential rains have battered the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, home to 11 million people, since late April and caused severe flooding that inundated entire towns, blocked roads, breached a dam and shut down the international airport until June. .

At least 100 people died and 128 others were reported missing. Flooding has swept through most of Rio Grande do Sul’s 497 municipalities, forcing nearly 164,000 people from their homes.

In Porto Alegre, the state capital, a city of 1.3 million people that sits on the banks of the Guaiba River, streets were flooded with murky water, the airport was closed due to flooding, and flights were canceled until the end of the month.

The river rose more than 16 feet this week, surpassing levels seen during the Great Flood of 1941, which paralyzed the city for weeks.

Flooding blocked roads into the city and hampered the delivery of essential supplies. Supermarkets were running out of bottled water on Tuesday, and some residents reported walking up to three miles in search of clean drinking water.

Many trapped people were waiting for rescue on rooftops. Some took desperate measures to escape: Ana Paula de Abreu, 40, held her 11-year-old in one arm as the shelter where her family lived flooded. Son, swam to a rescue boat. Two residents of a Porto Alegre neighborhood used air mattresses to rescue at least 15 people from their flooded homes.

Search crews, including authorities and volunteers, are scouring flooded areas and rescuing residents by boat and plane. With nowhere to land, some helicopters used winches to pull up people trapped by the floods.

Barbara Fernandes, 42, a lawyer in Porto Alegre, spent hours on Monday on the scorching roof of her apartment building, waving a red rag and cane to the sky. She was finally spotted by a rescue helicopter late in the afternoon.

“You just don’t know when they’re going to come to you,” Ms. Fernandez said. She was recovering from ankle surgery and was unable to escape her building before the water rose.

Nearly 67,000 people are living in shelters across the state, while others are sheltering in the homes of family or friends. Some who don’t have either option are forced to sleep in their cars or on the streets in areas that are still dry.

“It seems like we’re going through the end of the world,” said Beatriz Belmontt Abel, 46, a nursing technician who volunteers at a shelter in Canoas, a city with which Porto Alegre is across the river. “I never thought I would see something like this happen.”

At another shelter set up in a gym in Porto Alegre, volunteers distributed food and clothes. Rows of mattresses lay on the floor, cardboard boxes serving as shelves. The rescued people were busy sweeping the floor and making makeshift beds.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who visited the region last week, pledged federal funds to help relief efforts. State authorities also announced aid to pay for search crews, medical services and housing for people whose homes were destroyed or damaged by flooding.

While rescue efforts continue, authorities are concerned the crisis could worsen as another wave of severe weather is expected in the coming days. Meteorologists are predicting heavy rain, hail, thunderstorms and winds gusting in excess of 60 mph as a cold front hits the area.

Governor Eduardo Wright said authorities were evacuating people from areas vulnerable to severe weather. Some residents refused to abandon their homes for fear of being robbed. Others are trying to return to their communities in the hope that water levels will drop.

“It’s not time to go home yet,” Mr. Wright told reporters on Tuesday.

The floods are the fourth weather-related crisis in southern Brazil in less than a year. In September, heavy rains and strong winds caused by hurricanes killed 37 people in Rio Grande do Sul.

Climate experts say the region is being affected by El Niño, a cyclical climate phenomenon that can bring heavy rains to southern Brazil and cause drought in the Amazon rainforest.

But Mercedes Bustamante, an ecologist and professor at the University of Brasilia, said El Niño’s effects are exacerbated by climate change, deforestation and uncontrolled urbanization.

“You’re really looking for the root causes of disaster,” said Dr. Bustamante, who has written several reports for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an expert body convened by the United Nations.

For more than a decade, scientists have been warn Policymakers believe global warming will bring more rainfall to the region.

Dr Bustamante said precipitation patterns were changing as deforestation intensified in the Amazon and other parts of Brazil, leading to more erratic rainfall patterns. As a result, rainfall can sometimes be unevenly distributed, causing smaller areas to get drenched, or heavy downpours over a shorter period of time.

She added that severe weather has become more deadly in recent decades as urban populations have grown and cities like Porto Alegre have encroached on forested areas that once served as buffers from floods and landslides.

Noting that the recent floods had caught Brazil “off guard”, Dr Bustamante stressed the need to improve cities’ resilience to climate change and develop response strategies to better protect residents from extreme weather events, which Incidents are bound to become more frequent.

“Unfortunately, this is a tragedy that has been happening for some time,” she said. “We hope this serves as a call to action.”

Manuela Andreoni Reporting from New York.

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