Death toll rises to 154 in Rio Grande do Sul tragedy

More than 2 million people are affected by the floods in Brazil and more rain forecasted in the coming days throughout the country

May 17, 2024 by Peoples Dispatch
Over 90% of all municipalities in Rio Grande do Sul have been affected by the heavy rains and flooding. Photo: Secretary of Communication Brazil

154 people have been killed in floods that have affected 93% of the municipalities in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. 104 people are still missing and 806 are injured.

The impact of the rains in 458 of Rio Grande do Sul’s 497 cities has left over 540,000 people homeless and another 77,199 are in shelters. The lack of shelter for those who have lost their homes is a primary concern.

In an interview with Folha de S.Paulo, the mayor of Porto Alegre, Sebastião Melo (MDB), said that “there are no properties available at the moment” for the 30,000 or so people who, according to the municipal administration, are homeless.

Melo, who was recently criticized for saying that people living in halfway houses are “contaminating” the shelters, said he had asked the federal government to draw up a housing plan to deal with the shortage.

For the first time this week, the level of the Guaíba River was below 5 meters. The Hydraulic Research Institute of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) expects the level to fall slowly over the next few days.

On May 16, however, the state reported that 236,888 properties are still without electricity, and 129,977 do not have access to water. In the last 24 hours, electricity has been restored to around 17,000 homes.

With few clothes for the cold, shelters report suffering due to low temperatures

Since the beginning of May, when the flooding in Porto Alegre began, 46 of the capital’s 96 neighborhoods have been affected by the floods, impacting around 157,000 people. Of these, more than 13,000 are in the 154 temporary shelters.

The neighborhood most affected by the flooding in the capital is Sarandi, in the north, where more than 26,000 people have been affected, according to data from Porto Alegre’s mayor office. There, after temporarily receding over the weekend, the water level rose again on May 14.

One of the major challenges for those who had to flee their homes and may be seeking refuge in shelters, is the cold weather in the state. Many people who left with only the clothes on their back are lacking appropriate warm clothing such as socks, pants, coats and sweatshirts.

In addition to the intense cold, with frost in some regions, MetSul Meteorologia’s forecast that rain will continue this weekend.

MST mitigates the situation of families affected by the flood

Since the beginning of the flooding in Rio Grande do Sul, together with partner organizations, the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement has been carrying out the Landless Solidarity Campaign for Rio Grande do Sul to help the more than 2.1 million people affected by the heavy rains and flooding in the state so far. In addition to the campaign, various actions are also being carried out to alleviate the suffering of the affected families.

So far, six MST settlements have been affected in the metropolitan region of Porto Alegre and the central region of the state. 870 people from MST settlements have been rendered homeless, and have also lost planted and stored food, animals and tools.

There have also been major losses in terms of structures, machinery, raw materials, and products for sale by the cooperatives and agro-industries located in these settlements.

Displaced MST families are current being hosted at different settlements in the state that did not face as serious flooding.

The MST set up a solidarity kitchen in the Filhos de Sepé settlement, to provide food for the displaced people. Every day, around 1,500 meals are distributed to the families affected in Eldorado do Sul. The MST is also organizing meal production at the headquarters of the Apolônio de Carvalho settlement to serve the families there, and meals are being made daily for the families sheltered at the Hugo Chávez settlement in Tapes.

Also in the city of Pelotas, through a partnership between the MST, Levante da Juventude, and Armazém do Campo, 400 meals a day are being produced, with the involvement of around a hundred volunteers. The solidarity meals are delivered to five shelters that are taking in homeless people.

The MST has organized 200 kits of hygiene and cleaning materials for cleaning work in the houses where the water has subsided, in the settlements of Sinos, in Nova Santa Rita; Colônia Nonoaiense (IPZ) and Apolônio de Carvalho, in Eldorado do Sul. There is also a joint effort to remove rubble, fundraising for the cost of renting backhoes and dump trucks for the services.